Rune

Episode 13 of Relativity

by Michelle and James Lehmann

 

Leonard Nolan rolled over, his eyes slitting open to look at the alarm clock. As the glowing red numbers registered in his brain, his tiredness disappeared and his eyes snapped open. “Oh my gosh, I’m late.”

Sliding from under the blanket, the man ran to the closet and threw open the bi-fold doors. Fastening the last button on his gray custodian uniform, he turned and admired himself in the mirror.

“How do I look, Harold?” he asked, glancing back at his roommate.

The gray and white shaggy dog blinked twice and gave a bark.

Leonard turned back to his reflection and pulled a brush through his thick sandy brown hair. Though he never had a good time taming his mane, this morning it seemed particularly unruly. “C’mon,” he groaned. After more brushing and a large glob of hair gel, he looked presentable. Winking at his pet, he pulled on his coat and headed out the door.

It was four blocks to Stan’s Coffee Shop, and it would normally take him five minutes to walk at a casual pace. Since he was late, Leonard decided to run and cleared the distance in just under two. Huffing and puffing, he made it there just as the lock was being turned.

“Good morning,” the dark-haired man said as he opened the door.

Leonard grumbled “hello” and walked past him.

There had been people waiting outside before he arrived and they now formed a long line at the counter—but Leonard didn’t mind. It gave him a chance to admire the view. As he hoped, his favorite barista was working. Her name was Melody. She had long wavy blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes, and no matter how bad things were going, she always managed a smile. He loved to see her smile, especially at him, because deep down he hoped she liked him as much as he liked her.

It was his turn next and he walked up and ordered his regular. “Mint mocha, extra whipped cream.”

Melody had already started to make his drink before he reached the counter. He felt they must have some kind of special connection for her to be able to do that.

“I haven’t seen you here in a while,” she commented, and Leonard felt his heart race at the thought that she had missed him.

“I was working the night shift for the past few weeks. Crazy long hours, too. Today I’m pulling a double.”

“Oh, well, hopefully the overtime is good.” Melody handed him his drink.

As he took the cup, Leonard executed the move he’d perfected over the past few months. He reached out with both hands and brought them up in such a way that he gently brushed against the woman’s fingers.

“So, how have you been—?” The question fell dead on his lips as he noticed Melody’s left hand. There was a wedding ring on it.

“Are you all right?” the blonde asked.

“Oh sure, I’m okay,” he said, but his tone told otherwise. Unable to think of anything else to say, he took his coffee to a table near the window and sat down.

How could she do that? his mind whirled. It was obvious she liked him. She always made his drink perfect, and took time to talk with him when there was no one else around. He was sure she never did that for anyone else.

Staring at the whipped cream peaks floating on the top of his mocha, he sighed.

The bell above the door rang and Leonard glanced up to see a short redhead enter. He’d seen her there before. She was sister to some high roller. The janitor grimaced. He hated the rich. They were all stuck-up and mean.

“Good morning,” the woman said as she walked past, but she didn’t linger. It was a pleasantry, nothing more.

Suddenly not in the mood for coffee, the janitor stood and headed for the door, leaving his cup—and his broken heart—behind.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“You’re late!”

Leonard was taken aback. His boss, Mr Wyvern, was generally grumpy, but today he was livid.

“Um, I am?”

“Morning shift starts at eight a.m.” barked Wyvern.

Leonard pointed to his wrist. “According to my watch, I’m on time.”

“According to the clock on the wall, you’re five minutes late.” The man began to speak slowly and carefully. “I think the clock on the wall is more authoritative as to what time it actually is in the museum than your watch. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Leonard swallowed. “Yeah. I guess so.” He started to walk towards the employee locker room, then decided it would be better to run.

I always keep my watch set to the exact same time as that clock, just so this kind of thing doesn’t happen. He grimaced. I’ll bet someone set it forward five minutes. I’m sure of it.

There were several other janitors in the locker room. On most mornings, he and the guys would sit and chat before heading out onto the floor, but today was different. Everyone was nervous. The museum was getting in a large shipment of artifacts from a private collector. Since the children of the man were wealthy, Wyvern wanted everything extra clean, hoping to impress them into becoming benefactors.

Gathering his supplies, Leonard headed for the main floor bathrooms.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Leonard opened the third floor utility closet and rolled the wringer bucket in. While he had been mopping the floor near the caveman exhibit, a woman had commented how nice it looked. Even though it was a small compliment, the words were enough to lift his spirits, and he had managed to finish his morning rounds a half an hour early.

Whistling a tune to himself, his good mood was short-lived.

“Nolan!” It was Mr. Wyvern’s voice coming through the small walkie-talkie clipped to his belt. Leonard decided to ignore it and blame it on dead batteries, but as the man continued to bellow, he thought better of it and brought the device to his lips.

“Yes, sir?”

“Get to H2 now. And I mean NOW!”

Swallowing hard, Leonard grabbed the mop like a sword and hurried to the nearest stairwell.

 

The Hammermiller Room was located in the second basement. It was the main location where the staff would inspect and catalogue the various items that came into the museum. There was a crowd of people near the door and Leonard bowed his head pensively as he walked past. Slipping inside, his eyes fell on Wyvern.

“This room is filthy. There’s sticky stuff all over the floor.”

Glancing at one of the tables, Leonard noticed two soda cans on their side. “Well, someone must have spilled something. That’s not my fault.”

“I didn’t say it’s your fault, I said to clean it up, now!” Wyvern’s nostrils flared and he stormed out of the room. When he was in the hallway, the janitor could hear the man’s tone become apologetic. “Please excuse my yelling. Sometimes you have to be hard with the staff—it’s so difficult to find good help these days.”

Leonard sneered at the door and waited for the group to leave before going to get a bucket.

“It’s against the rules to bring food and drink in here,” he grumbled as he ran the bleach soaked mop over the floor. Of course Wyvern hadn’t told the big fancy rich people that they had to follow the rules. That was always how it was. If you had enough money, the rules didn’t apply.

The room was empty aside from Jeffrey Cunningham, one of the museum’s curators. The man was sitting at the far end of the table, looking over a few items and jotting down notes onto a small tablet. Leonard didn’t know much about the new collection, other than it had something to do with Egypt, but he was curious enough to walk over and take a peek.

“Yes?” Cunningham droned.

“I was just wondering what kind of stuff there was.”

“Nothing of your concern. Most of it has already been moved to the temporary holding area until we can get it on exhibit. This is the last of it.”

The man’s tone was cool, so Leonard took the hint and returned to the mess on the floor. Moving a garbage can, he ran the mop over more sticky goo. The people had made quite a mess, and there was soda under the cabinet as well. When he pushed the bureau aside, something glimmering caught his eye. It was a ring with a large stone in it. Next to it was a slender golden rod.

He called back to Cunningham. “Are you sure you guys have everything?”

“I just told you we did,” he snipped.

“You’re sure?”

“Don’t you have something else to do?”

Leonard swallowed. “I’m almost done with this spill, then I’ll be out of your way.”

The custodian bent over and scooped the pieces into his hand. They were beautiful, and he thought of how wonderful the ring would look on Melody’s finger—much nicer than that plain wedding band.

Dropping the items into his pocket, he finished mopping the floor and left.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Lightning split the sky and thunder crashed, shaking the buildings. Leonard stared out the window, watching the rain pour down the glass in sheets. It reminded him of the movies, where the villain had just done something sinister and a terrible storm was a harbinger of things to come.

While Leonard didn’t feel like a villain, he did feel guilty for taking the items out of the museum. Stealing was cause for termination. But for all he knew, the staff had meant to toss them in the garbage and simply missed.

Thunder crashed again and Harold yipped, crawling under the coffee table.

“It’s okay, boy.” Leonard turned his attention to the shiny objects on the table. The ring was gold with symbols etched on the outside and a large blue-green stone set on top. The tiny rod looked like it matched the ring, with the same symbols on the side. It was about the length of his finger, and he thought perhaps it was an Egyptian drink stirrer.

Slipping the ring onto his finger, Leonard was amazed how light it felt. It was like he wasn’t wearing it at all.

“So, you think I’m the type of guy who would look good wearing jewelry?” he asked his dog as he struck a handsome pose.

Harold whimpered as the storm continued to wage outside.

“I’m sure it would look prettier on a girl’s hand,” Leonard muttered. “I just wish I knew what those symbols meant.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The following day was Saturday. Leonard usually slept-in until ten, then would wake up to watch television. Saturday morning cartoons weren’t the same as when he was a kid, but they were still pretty good, and he enjoyed eating a bowl of fruit-flavored cereal while following the antics of his favorite characters. On this day, however, he set the alarm clock for eight and headed right out the door.

It took three different bus routes to make it to the Jefferson neighborhood. He had searched the phone book and had found the perfect place for his mission. It was an old business that specialized in old things.

Leonard stared at the writing on the window: Through the Looking Glass Antiques. Pushing open the heavy door, he inhaled deeply. The shop smelled like old paper and candle wax. He didn’t know why, but that made him smile.

There was a long counter at the front filled with all kinds of neat things: antique jewelry, retro food canisters, tea cups, and porcelain dolls. The janitor caught sight of an old Mighty Mouse lunch box and wondered how much it was.

“Thirty-five dollars,” someone spoke.

Leonard gasped and looked up. A woman had appeared from the back room. She was tall and her black hair was slicked back. She was dressed like a man in a World War II movie.

“What?”

“I saw you admiring that lunch box. It’s thirty-five dollars, if you were interested.”

“Oh, no,” Leonard said. “I’m not here to buy anything.”

Even though he had just told the woman he wasn’t going to make a sale, the clerk smiled anyway and extended her hand. “I’m Roberta Glass.”

The janitor grabbed the woman’s palm. “I’m Leonard.” He shifted from one foot to the other. “Do you do that thing that they do on t.v. here?”

“Excuse me?”

Leonard rolled his eyes. “Do you look at something and can tell a person what it is and how much it’s worth? Like on those antique t.v. shows.”

“Oh.” Glass laughed. “Yes, I can give you an appraisal of an item. What do you have?”

Digging into his pocket, Leonard suddenly became nervous. He hadn’t thought of an excuse for why he had the pieces, and he didn’t want the woman to get suspicious. “I think they’re Egyptian.”

Roberta pulled out a pair of eyeglasses and place them on her nose before grabbing the pieces.

The janitor decided on a half-truth. “I found them in the trash. I don’t know why someone would want to get rid of them.”

“Probably because they’re fake.”

Leonard’s heart skipped a beat. “Fake?”

The woman pointed inside the ring. “See that seam and the craftsmanship? That’s not how they made things in ancient Egypt. From the looks of this, it’s early 1900s. Perhaps 1920 or so.”

“Then maybe they did throw them away,” he whispered to himself.

“But,” the shopkeeper added, “This stone is intriguing. It’s turquoise, a very common stone used in Egyptian jewelry. But the coloring and cut are quite unique. Could be that the ring was forged specifically to set this stone in.”

“Is it worth something?”

“It’s hard to tell. I’m not a gem expert.” Rubbing her finger over the markings on the small rod, Glass began pressing the raised ends. With a push and a turn, the tiny ornamental cap popped off, revealing a hollow center. Inside was a piece of paper covered with ancient writing.

“It’s some kind of scroll,” the woman said as she unrolled it. “The paper is of modern composition, so I would guess it was made around the same time as the ring. These symbols—clearly Egyptian. Unfortunately, that’s not my area of expertise either.”

“So you don’t know what it says?”

“I’m sorry, no. Though I’m sure you could do some research and find out.”

Letting out a long sigh, Leonard took the items back from the woman. For once in his life he thought maybe he’d gotten lucky. But it turned out to be a loser... just like him.

“You know,” the antique dealer said. “Those items aren’t authentic, but they do have some value as they’re nearly a hundred years old. I could give you $350 for them.”

Leonard considered the offer. He could use the extra money. “I’ll think about that and maybe I’ll be back. Thank you, ma’am.”

Pulling the glasses from her nose, she wiped them on the hem of her shirt. “You’re welcome. And if you find anything else like that in the future, be sure to bring it by.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Leonard sat at the computer, typing in search phrases. He held up the page of symbols, comparing them to the ones on the screen.

“Hey, what are you up to?”

The janitor had been so engrossed in his research, he hadn’t noticed the woman slip into the seat next to him.

“Oh, I’m just looking up the meaning of this writing,” he said, flushing red.

Melody smiled. “Can I see?”

Leonard had not wanted to risk losing the scroll, so he had copied the symbols onto a piece of notebook paper.

“Ooh. Hieroglyphics.”

“Yeah,” Leonard nodded. “I saw this written down on something at the museum and wanted to see what it says. But I’m not having much luck with it.”

“You know, it’s probably gonna be hard for you to decode that using the internet. You should go to a library and look at some books, where they have lots of symbols and information in one place.” The blonde leaned over to look at what was on the screen. “Do you like Egyptian history?”

Feeling his heart thump harder in his chest, Leonard swallowed. “Why? Do you?”

“Not really,” the barista admitted. “I love the Medieval and Renaissance periods. I’m a big fan of fantasy books, and they’re usually set in those eras. Have you ever read the Norfallon series?”

“No,” Leonard answered, sheepishly. “I’m more into comics. You know, superheroes and that kind of stuff.”

“Really?” She grasped his hand. “That’s so neat.”

Leonard stared at Melody’s fingers on top of his, a smile crawling across his lips. He’d never met a girl who had been happy that he liked comic books.

The bell to the shop rang. It was the redhead again, but this time she was with a tall, sandy-haired man. They waved to Melody, then headed to the table at the far rear of the room.

“I have to go,” she said. “Good luck in your search.”

Watching her join her friends in back, Leonard scowled. He hated the fact she was taken away from him again. Still, she had touched him. She had actually grabbed his hand. That must mean she liked him, right?

His mind whirled. Maybe she married that guy because she had to. Maybe she needed someone who could support her. Leonard realized that if he could somehow make more money and give her a good life, Melody would leave her loser husband and come with him.

Suddenly encouraged, the janitor rose and headed for the door.

Next stop, the library.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The book was 450 pages and probably the longest book Leonard had ever read, but he managed to get through it all in a few hours. Of course, it helped that most of it was pictures. Melody had been right, and he had found an Egyptian encyclopedia that had allowed him to decode the scroll. Problem was, even though he now knew what it said, the words were all gibberish. He started to get scared that maybe the scroll was nothing more than the result of someone throwing together a bunch of random stuff.

Closing the volume, Leonard picked up the second book he’d gotten. When flipping through the encyclopedia at the library, he had learned that one of the symbols represented a god. He felt himself quite clever to have thought to get a book on Egyptian deities at the same time. The scroll had mentioned Seth, so he flipped open to that page.

“Seth is the god of storms,” he whispered. “The god of chaos.”

Leonard read the section on the deity and shrugged. It was all well and good, but it amounted to nothing more than fiction.

“So, Harold, here’s what I think,” he started as he leaned forward on the table. “Years ago, someone found this pretty stone and thought it was from Egypt. They made this ring, then came up with some mumbo jumbo and put it in that tube.” He slipped it on his finger. “I bet that fancy collector got duped into buying it. Paid lots of money, not knowing it was a fake. Of course, the curator realized it wasn’t the real thing and threw it away.”

Harold barked twice.

“Yep, then I found it.” He sighed. “And just my luck, it’s still a fake.”

Leonard looked at his scribbled translation of the scroll. “God of the Nile...” he began to read aloud. He muttered the words quietly, slowly, and as he spoke each one, he felt like he must say the next. “...and power of the skies, the body, and the mind.”

Leonard kept reading, saying the words, and when he reached the end, he started again.

“With your power, bind our worlds to each other.”

He reached the end and started again.

“...a pyramid in your honor...”

And again.

“...infuse magic into this stone...”

There was a large crash and Leonard felt himself pulled out of the haze. Outside, another storm had started, and it sounded like lightning had struck right outside his window. Shaking his head, he glanced down.

The stone was glowing.

Terrified, he pulled it off and tossed it on the floor. Almost immediately, the rain stopped.

Leonard stared at the ring for a long time, afraid to say anything, afraid to move. Finally, he took a step forward and picked it up again. The stone was still glowing and the metal felt hot.

“Maybe the words charged it or something.” Placing it back on his finger, he thought for a moment. “The encyclopedia said that Egyptians were really into magic. Could it be that this is a magic ring?” Leonard smiled to himself and moved back to the deity book. “I wonder what kinds of spells those gods had.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Sunday morning was freezing cold and the rainwater from the night before had frozen into solid sheets of ice. Leonard walked to the museum, the trip taking twice as long because of the slippery sidewalks. He let himself in through the employees’ entrance. Since he knew everybody’s schedule, he chose this time because no one would be around.

“Hey, Leonard!” called a voice.

Leonard jumped. It was just one of the other custodians. “Oh, hi, Pete.”

“I thought you worked Monday through Friday.”

“I do,” he answered, trying to sound casual. “I just came to get something out of my locker. Um, my sweater. I left it here.”

“Do you really need it? You’ve got a heavy coat on.”

“Well, you know, it’s so cold today, I want my coat and my sweater.”

Pete thought for a moment, then nodded. “That makes sense. Okay, see you!”

As his co-worker left, Leonard sighed in relief. He was already nervous bringing the ring back into the museum, he didn’t want anyone to see him with it. Making sure to keep his hand in his pocket, he headed for the storage room where the Egyptian artifacts were kept.

The night before, Leonard had tried every kind of spell and magic he could think of, but nothing worked. It then occurred to him that maybe he didn’t look right. The ring was Egyptian and it would probably only work for an Egyptian owner—or more likely an ancient Egyptian owner. Leonard decided he had to dress in the oldest outfit he could find.

As he entered the hallway outside the storage room, the custodian heard footsteps. He realized it was one of the guards, but there was nowhere for him to hide. “If only I were invisible,” he whispered.

At the other end of the hallway, a security guard appeared. Leonard recognized her as a woman named Janice. She was short and heavyset, and looked strong enough to stop a truck with her bare hands. She casually walked up to Leonard...

...then walked past without even looking in his direction. He couldn’t believe his luck. But when he went to wipe the sweat from his forehead, he realized why—he could see right through his hand! In fact, he was completely invisible.

Leonard’s heart started to pound in his chest. It worked, he thought. I’m invisible. Oh, my gosh, it actually worked!

Ducking into the storage room, he shut the door behind himself. “I wish I was visible again.” With a smile, he saw his hands reappear.

Looking through the various chests, Leonard searched for clothes, being careful not to damage the delicate pieces. His first thought was to get something fancy to wear, but he realized that might be too obvious. So he decided on a simple tunic and a headpiece. He then grabbed a belt and pair of sandals from one of the nearby shelves. As he slid the clothing into the plastic bag he’d brought with him, he thought about the long walk back home. He was dreading another treacherous journey on the slippery sidewalks. And, worse yet, he feared he might fall on top of the bag and destroy the clothing.

Looking down at the ring on his finger, he smirked. “This thing could get me there.” He stood in the middle of the room and began to click his heels together. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

Nothing happened.

The janitor waved his hand up and down, as if the ring were an aerosol can that needed to be shaken before use.

“I wish I was home!”

Nothing happened, and he was just about to give up when he heard—no, he felt—words enter his mind: Winds of the Nile, carry me home.

“Winds of the Nile, carry me home,” he whispered.

In the blink of an eye, Leonard found himself in the living room of his apartment, and he still had the bag of Egyptian clothing with him.

Looking around, his lips spread into a wide smile. “Now, that’s what I call service!”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“How do I look?” Leonard spun around so that Harold could get a good full view of his costume. The dog was trying to nap. He opened one eye, gave a quick peek, then went back to sleep.

Leonard sighed. He wasn’t very impressed with it either. The shirt had apparently been for a chubby Egyptian—it was way too big and he couldn’t get the belt thing to stay on. If that wasn’t bad enough, the khat he had grabbed was too tight and gave him a headache, and the sandals itched like crazy. Not to mention the whole outfit smelled like it was a couple thousand years old.

“Great, all of that trouble and it was a waste.”

If only he had known about the teleportation beforehand, he could have slipped in and out with far less trouble. Even better, if he’d known a conjuring spell, he could have simply made an outfit and skipped the museum altogether. As it was, he was stuck with what he had.

Glancing in the mirror again, Leonard grimaced. He looked like a kid who had tried to make his own Halloween costume and failed. If Melody saw him, she’d laugh for sure.

“Actually, I probably could make a better costume if I tried,” he thought out loud. “Well, maybe I couldn’t, but I know someone who could.” The janitor walked over to the phone and dialed a number. “Hey, gramma? It’s Leonard. I want to know if you could do some sewing for me.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Leonard arrived at the museum in a bit of a panic. It was five minutes after five, and would surely by ten-after by the time he made it to the time clock. He had spent most of the previous night going over the books on Egypt, reading about the culture and mysticism. While he didn’t understand everything, he realized that whatever he was going to gain from the ring would take time, study, and patience.

Unfortunately, he had become so absorbed, he hadn’t realized how late it was.

Running into the employee locker room, Leonard was relieved to find that Wyvern wasn’t there. However, he was less than pleased to see that the police were, along with two costumed crimefighters.

“Black Torrent,” he whispered under his breath. The male superhero was there along with a woman. He had heard about her in the paper, but couldn’t remember her name. It started with a Z or something.

A police officer was talking to Pete. He saw his co-worker point at him and Leonard had to bite the inside of his lip to keep from gasping.

“Hello, son,” the cop said. “We’ve had a few items stolen from the museum and we’re questioning everyone.”

“Oh, really?” Leonard asked, trying to sound surprised. “What was taken, dinosaur bones or something?”

“No, nothing like that. Some pieces from the Egyptian collection.”

The woman crimefighter walked over and gave him a small nod. Leonard suddenly felt self-conscious.

“You don’t have to worry,” she reassured. “We heard you were here for a brief time over the weekend. Just tell us what you know.”

“I don’t know anything. I don’t know why anyone would have taken any clothing.”

The officer’s eyes narrowed. “We never mentioned it was clothing.”

“Nolan!”

Leonard was already on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Hearing Wyvern’s voice nearly caused him to have a heart-attack. “Yes, sir?”

“You’re late.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, I overslept.”

The officer shook his head. “I think we need to ask this gentlemen a few more questions.”

“Someone told me some clothing was stolen when I was walking in,” Leonard stammered, coming up with the best lie he could think of.

Wyvern let out a laugh. “Don’t waste your time talking with him. He’s a moron. He couldn’t steal anything if it was laying right in front of him.”

Even though Leonard didn’t want to be accused of stealing, his blood boiled at his boss’s words. “You know, I’m not a moron.”

The man snickered. “You’re no rocket scientist either.”

Leonard glanced at the woman superhero. She gave him a small smile. It was a pretty smile, and he could tell she felt sorry for him. Embarrassed, he turned to the police officer. “All right, what else do you need to ask me?”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It was snowing. That wasn’t unusual in early February, but Leonard hated it. He didn’t like to be cold and he didn’t like to be wet. On top of it all, he was irritated. The police had questioned him for an hour about the missing artifacts. Even though they said he was free to go, he knew they were keeping him on their list of suspects. Since they needed to complete their investigation, the night janitorial staff was told to go home early.

Upset and worried, he had decided to walk to the coffee shop to see Melody, but she wasn’t there. The girl behind the counter hadn’t even smiled at him and didn’t put nearly enough whipped cream on his coffee. He’d left in a worse mood than when he had arrived.

While he hated the snow, Leonard didn’t feel like going home. He’d been cooped up for days trying to figure out all the Egyptian stuff. Now he just wanted to be out and clear his head. He decided to take a walk through the park before heading back to his apartment.

Digging his hands deep into his pockets, he felt the large lump inside. Knowing the ring was with him made him feel better. It was getting to the point where he was starting to feel naked without it.

“God of the Nile,” he muttered, reciting the chant from the scroll under his breath. He slipped his finger into the ring.

Leonard had discovered that his original theory had been correct. The ring had to be charged for it to work, and it had to be re-charged every sunrise by saying the spell. He’d memorized it, just in case he ever lost the scroll. As he said the words, Leonard felt the ring get warm and he smiled.

Turning the corner towards the playground area, the janitor noticed three teenagers ahead. Even though they appeared to be half his age, they looked pretty scary. He slowed his pace and wondered if he should turn around.

One of the kids pointed in his direction. Leonard suddenly felt afraid.

“Hey, nerd-boy,” the tallest one called. “We wanna talk to you.”

Leonard felt his heart race. He’d heard those types of taunts all through high school and it never ended well. Turning, he began to walk back the way he came, but a hand stopped him.

“Didn’t you hear the man? He was talking to you.”

“He’s not a man,” Leonard said. “He’s a punk kid.” As the words left his mouth, he was unsure why he’d even said them. He had never had the courage to stand up for himself before... but that seemed to be changing.

He immediately regretted it, though.

The shortest kid grabbed him, pinning his arms to his side. The punk who had taunted him punched him in the stomach, while the third kicked him in the side.

Don’t let them do this, his mind screamed, and he wasn’t sure if it was his voice or not.

“Give us your money, geekman.”

“Don’t hurt me,” he stammered.

“Hey, look at that fancy-schmancy ring he has on.”

“Give us the ring!”

Not my ring, he thought, panicked.

The kid that had been kicking him stopped and grabbed his hand.

“NO!!!!!” Leonard could feel his muscles tense, the adrenaline pumping. With a growl, he threw out his arms. He expected to push the punks back a bit. Instead, he gasped as the teens flew through the air, landing several feet away. The nearest thug staggered before he rushed him and grabbed his hand again.

“Give us that ring!”

In a fluid movement, Leonard grabbed the boy by the front of his shirt and lifted him off the ground. The teen’s mouth gaped before he let out a loud scream. “Help me! Put me down.”

“As you wish,” the janitor sneered as he body slammed the kid onto the concrete sidewalk. There was the sound of breaking bones.

“Aaahhh! My arm! You broke my arm!”

“You’re lucky that’s all I broke.” Walking over to the two other thugs, Leonard dragged them over to their incapacitated friend. “Now,” he started. “Why don’t you give me all of your money.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It was Tuesday night and a quarter to five. Leonard made it to the museum’s locker room with plenty of time to spare. Most of the first shift custodians were finishing for the day, so it was crowded as everyone readied to go home.

Brushing the snow off his coat, the janitor noticed the stares of his co-workers.

“Wow, Len,” Jerry Connor said. “That’s a really nice jacket. Did you just get it?”

It was a leather bomber jacket, just like the ones he’d seen in the old movies. He’d wanted one since he was a kid, but could never afford it. “Yeah, yesterday.”

“Really sharp. Oh well, see you later.”

Smiling to himself, he pulled the ring from his coat and shoved it into the pocket of his trousers.

The guys left and Leonard found himself alone in the room. Glancing over his shoulder, he pulled a plastic bag from his backpack and headed for the first floor storage closet.

It took five hours to make it through his duties of the night. By that time, it was past ten and most everyone was gone from the building—just one other janitor and two security guards remained. Since he didn’t need it anymore, Leonard figured the best thing to do was to return the Egyptian clothing. Perhaps if the items just re-appeared, the investigation would be dropped and he’d avoid any more trouble.

Turning the key in the lock, Leonard tried to be as quiet as possible. He kept the door open just a crack, in case he needed to leave in a hurry. Pulling the sandals out first, he walked over to the wall rack where he had found them.

“What are you doing in here?!”

The light flickered on and Leonard let out a small cry. “Mr. Wyvern!”

“So, it was you! And here I thought you were nothing more than a snivelling weasel. You’re also a snake!”

“I can explain,” the janitor said, raising his hands.

“I’m going to call the police and have you arrested!” The man turned and stormed out of the room.

Leonard’s heart thundered in his chest. How could this have happened? How could he have not noticed that Wyvern was still there? Running in front of the man, he pleaded. “Let me explain. It’s not what you think.”

Wyvern pushed him aside and headed up the main stairs, turning the corner into his office. “It’s exactly what I think it is. You are worthless, Nolan. You always have been. I’m going to call the police, but not before I send out an email to tell everyone what a worm you are.”

“No you’re not,” Leonard growled, his voice deepening.

The challenge was enough to silence the man for a moment. His eyebrows furrowed. “What did you say?”

“I only took this because I needed a costume. It wasn’t malicious.” He reached into his pocket and slipped the ring onto his finger. “You should see my outfit now. It’s amazing.”

“I have no idea what you’re babbling about.”

The man’s protests were cut short as Leonard began to glow. In an instant, his janitor uniform disappeared and he was dressed in a brown, black, and gold Egyptian outfit.

“What?” Wyvern gasped.

Leonard started to move forward, his body transforming with every step. “You have terrorized me long enough, Wyvern. You’re nothing but a bully. You humiliate and degrade everyone to make yourself feel big and important. I’ve decided that this is the last time you’re ever going to do that to me.”

“No-Nolan,” his boss stammered.

Leonard was taller now, more muscular, and he could feel power coursing through his veins. “Don’t call me that. From now on, you will call me... Rune.” Rays of white light started to stream from the ring, covering his whole body. “Lighting of the sky, come forward now!”

Electricity streaked down, as if coming from the heavens. He reached out his hand and pointed it at the museum administrator.

“No! No! Don’t! Stop—” Wyvern jerked, his body becoming rigid as his hand moved to his left armpit. The man’s mouth gaped and his eyes widened before he slumped forward onto his desk.

Hands shaking, Leonard felt his body relax. The lightning that surrounded him dimmed and faded. “Mr. Wyvern?” he said, his voice suddenly small and weak. Grabbing the man’s wrist, he tried to feel for a pulse. There was none. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was just trying to scare you.” He looked down at the bag of clothing still in his hand. “Maybe I should go put these back first, then decide how to handle this.”

As the janitor walked out of the room, his mind tickled and a smile drew across his lips. “Now that I think about it, I know exactly what I’m going to do.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The line at Stan’s Coffee Shop was longer than usual. It took a whole five minutes to make it from the back to the front. Leonard didn’t mind. He hadn’t seen Melody in a few weeks and was happy for the chance to look at her again.

When he finally made it to the counter, the blonde’s eyes lit up. “Leonard, how are you? It’s been a while. Working the late shift again?”

“No, actually, I’ve just been settling into my new position.”

The woman glanced down, taking in his attire. “Ooh, you’re wearing a different uniform.”

“Uh-huh. I’m now head of the janitorial staff at the museum.”

“Oh, my gosh, really? That’s great!”

“It’s a big promotion. Lots of new responsibilities.” The man leaned forward, lowering his voice so only Melody could hear. “And a big raise.”

“I’m so happy for you,” she said, putting an extra squirt of whipped cream on his mocha.

“It’s kinda sad, though. My boss, Mr. Wyvern. He was sending out the email announcing my promotion when had a heart attack and died—right in the middle of it.”

“Oh, that’s awful.”

“I know. But the museum heads said they wanted to honor his last request, so I got the new position.”

“Well, you must be feeling mixed emotions, then. Good news, but under tragic circumstances.”

Leonard nodded. “Yes, exactly.”

“Well, congratulations, anyway. I hope you’ll be happy.”

As the blonde handed him his drink, Leonard brushed her fingers, but this time he made sure to touch them for a moment longer than usual. He could see Melody’s cheeks flush red and her smile softened. Leonard sighed. It was such a beautiful smile. Funny, it looked just like a smile he had seen recently...

His eyes widened in recognition as he pulled the cup to himself.

“Well, I guess now that you’re working regular shifts, we’ll see more of you around here,” she said as she motioned for the next customer to approach the counter.

“Yes. I think you’re going to see a lot more of me, very soon.” Carrying his drink to his regular table, he sat down, watching the woman from afar. His mouth twisted into a smirk. “Me and Rune.”