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They Think I Invented Pizza Chapters 1-3 (and the beginning of 4)
Please, see the intro post to this to understand why I'm posting it. I appreciate any help with spreading the word about it, and I'll give a more solid release date when I have one. If people enjoy these first chapters, I'm happy to share the rest of the book here. The only stipulation will be that anything past chapter 4 will have to come down when the book comes out.
1: No One is Home Everyone loves pizza, Pete the pizzaman more than most. So he sighed at the situation in which he found himself. It would be his last delivery of the night, three large pies, two pepperoni, one cheese.
The home had been easy enough to find. A green porchlight matched the delivery instructions, and at midnight, no other houses had their lights on. On that porch, he stood, waiting for someone…anyone…to answer the door.
Should I knock again? He wondered. Yup, I need to knock again. Knock. Knock. Knock. He would have rung the doorbell, but the house didn’t have one. Instead, the place where a doorbell used to be boasted a small hole. Exposed wires poked out. The paint on the wires matched the siding.
Should I call them? His eyes glanced at the customer’s phone number on the top of the credit card receipt. Then he dropped the receipt on his pizza bag, and he used the same left hand to fish out a phone from his pocket.
It was a windless night, a rare occurrence in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Something about it didn’t seem right. Even so, he didn’t need to worry about the receipt blowing away, so he wasn’t going to complain. He looked at the phone number by the customer’s name and called.
No one answered.
Three pizzas aren’t that heavy, not under normal circumstances… But after two minutes of standing there, they’d begun to weigh on his right bicep. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stay there much longer.
I should get them back to the car. I’m wasting time. And time wasn’t something he had that night. If he could get dishes done before 2:00 AM, he’d be able to watch when the new episode of his favorite isekai premiered.
Isekais were some of his favorite stories. They involve someone who goes to a new world, sometimes by dying and reincarnating, sometimes by teleporting, sometimes by both. In the new world, they live a new life full of adventure. Why couldn’t something cool like that happen to him?
Tired steps carried him back to the car. Once there, he placed the pizza bag on the passenger seat. At the same time, he sat in his own seat.
I’ll text them and wait five minutes before I leave. He lifted his phone and snapped a picture of the porch, sending it to the number with a message:
This is Pete the pizzaman. I’m here with your food. If no one comes to get it within the next five minutes, I’ll have to take it back to the store.
He wouldn’t mind if he had to take it back to the store with him. Whenever that happened, the manager canceled the order in the computer system. Then the employees got to eat the pizza… And if there was something Pete liked as much as isekai, it was pizza.
Some of his co-workers weren’t as excited about pizza. They’d eaten so much of it that they’d grown tired of it. One had gone as far as to say, “pizza turns to ash in my mouth.”
Pete wondered why he hadn’t grown tired of it. He supposed it had to do with his childhood. On Monday night, his family would gather, and they’d make pizza.
His dad would handle the dough prep. One by one, he’d take turns with each of the siblings. He taught them how to toss the dough, how to make sauce from scratch. Pete’s mother would prepare the cheese and toppings. Each topping got its own small plate on the dining room table.
A smile snuck across Pete’s face. Those were some of his favorite memories. He had a healthy, loving relationship with his parents and with his siblings. Even so, those Mondays didn’t happen anymore. His brothers and sisters were too busy with work or college. He was occupied with both: balancing work, video games, and school.
He glanced at the clock. Since he’d sent the text, five minutes had come and gone. It was time to head back to the store.
After he put his key in the ignition, he turned it, and the engine roared to life. He tapped a button on the steering wheel, and a woman’s voice spoke. “Please, say a command.”
“Call,” he began, reading the number off the receipt.
It went straight to voicemail.
“This is Pete the pizzaman. Since no one seems to be here, I’m taking your food back to the store. If you call us soon enough, we will be able to bring it back. If not, we’ll refund your credit card. I hope you have a great night.” As he finished the last word, he clicked a different button on his steering wheel, and his phone hung up.
Then he began to drive back to the store, moving with a slow caution through the neighborhood streets before reaching one of the avenues.
He hit the call button on the steering wheel again. When the woman’s voice asked for a command, he answered. “Call Zoey.”
“Calling Zoey on cell.” He could hear a few clicks and the faint echo of a dial tone. Then it rang.
Halfway through the first ring, Zoey answered. “What’s up?”
“They didn’t answer the door, didn’t answer their phone. I sent them a text with a picture of their house.” Pete slowed to a stop at a red light.
“If they call back, I’ll let them know.” She hung up.
He noticed some movement in the bushes to the right. When he cast his gaze in that direction, he saw a raccoon. It sent a chill down his spine.
Trash pandas might look cute, but he knew better than to trust the tenacious creatures. One time, one had snuck in his car through an open window. It was trying to pull the hot bag through the window when he intervened. Instead of running off, it went on the offensive. In the end, Pete ran.
The light turned green, and Pete continued unabated the rest of the way back to the store. He parked behind it, got out of his car—he brought the undelivered pizzas with him—and made his way inside.
When Zoey saw him, she smiled. Her bright white teeth contrasted against dark lipstick. She had her black hair cut at shoulder length. It was smooth and shiny with dyed red tips. “At least you’ll have some pizza for when you watch your show tonight.” Then her lips turned down at the corners, an eyebrow raised, and her voice took on a more serious tone. “Unless they ordered something gross?”
“Pepperoni and cheese.” He answered, slipping past her. In case the customer called back, he left the order on the heat racks.
He was in such a hurry that he didn’t notice her following behind him. As such, when he spun to head back to the dish pit, he almost ran into her. “Sorry about that.”
“No worries.” She flicked his hat. You’ll owe me for that later, though.”
“Yeah?” He shied back, her piercing emerald eyes staring at him.
“Yeah,” she stepped forward, poking him in the chest with her index finger. “You’ll have to share some of your pizza with me. And tomorrow when we play, you’ll owe me one of your drops. Nothing big, a potion or something.”
“Right,” he relaxed. Though, he wasn’t sure what he was afraid of. He liked Zoey a lot. She was funny, liked the same shows, did the same job, had a great sense of humor, and was gorgeous. What was the worst that she would do to him? Make him go on a date with her? Would she? That would be awesome. He went back to being nervous again. “Uh… Pizza…share…sure thing.” After an awkward few seconds of silence, he asked. “How much work do you have left to clean up front?”
“I’ll finish before you do.” She winked.
“We’ll see about that.”
An hour later, Pete was on the way home, excited he’d make it in time for his show. Driving at night was easier for him than driving in the day. He loved the empty roads… To be specific, he loved not having to worry about other drivers.
Of course, that didn’t mean he didn’t come across obstacles. Two blocks away from his house—for example—while on a residential street, a cat ran across the middle of the road. It crossed straight in front of him.
His brain took a second to react to the animal. If not for the single white spot on the center of its forehead, he doubted he would have seen it at all. When his brain did catch up, it shouted, ‘a cat, oh, gosh, it’s a cat. CAT!’
He slammed his right foot on the pedal, the tires screeched, and he came to a stop. The animal froze in place, inches away from his bumper. Then it sped the rest of the way across the street.
A woman with chestnut hair chased behind it. He hadn’t noticed her before. At first glance, he guessed she was older than him. Even so, she couldn’t have been over thirty. He kept his eyes on the woman and cat as they reached a tree, and the cat sped up it.
Pete contemplated helping them; he had the time. Part of him felt obligated to help. If he didn’t stop, and something happened to the woman, and he read about it the next day on a local social media news page…well, he couldn’t let it get to that point. He understood he was dramatic. In the end, it wouldn’t take him long to climb a tree and grab the cat.
Without further hesitation, he pulled next to a curb: parking his vehicle, shutting off the engine, hopping out, and walking toward the tree.
The girl stood at the bottom, speaking with soft words to the animal. “Come down, Max. We need to go home.”
While still at a distance—he didn’t want her to think he was sneaking up on her—Pete spoke. “Do you need some help? I can climb the tree and get him down for you?”
She turned. Where he thought it would surprise her to see him, it didn’t. Instead, her tone seemed expectant. It was like she was waiting for him. “If it isn’t too much trouble, that would be amazing. Thank you.”
“Don’t worry,” he told her, examining the tree. On the far side, it looked like it would be easier to get up. He looped to that part of the trunk and began to climb. “I’ll get your cat for you.”
He felt the woman’s eyes on him as he climbed. In a way, it made him feel nervous. He hated when people looked at him. If he slipped, or fell, or worse…like tearing his pants on a branch…he didn’t want witnesses.
Nervousness aside, at some point, he realized he was well over twenty feet above the ground, on a narrowing branch. He had two feet to go before he reached the cat, solid concrete below him. When he got to that point, fear replaced the nervousness.
One foot to reach the cat.
The cat inched away.
One and a half feet to reach the cat.
Six inches to reach the cat.
He reached for it, and it lunged at his face, swiping at his left cheek. His hand swung up to block, and he lost balance, falling face-first toward the sidewalk.
2: Pizza and Games Pete’s sense of hearing returned before anything else. When he remembered what had happened, the sounds he heard surprised him. There were no sirens, no rushed voices of emergency medical workers. The woman with the cat didn’t ask him if he was okay.
Instead, he heard…was it ski ball? Was it bowling? It seemed more like ski ball. Where both activities involve the sound of a ball rolling across a hard surface, this sound ended in a hollow thud, not with the crash of pins.
Beeps and bops accompanied the sound. It reminded him of video games, but not modern ones. These sounds were from ‘80s and ‘90s video games.
He heard kids playing. For how long had he been asleep? If kids were awake, he had to have been out for hours. Was he in the hospital? That might explain some of the electronic sounds. The ski ball sound might be a cart with food on it. But why would they let kids run around, playing in the halls? That didn’t make sense. He tried to lift his eyes to see, but his eyelids were heavy.
His sense of touch began to return. Air conditioning pushed down on him from above, giving his arms and shoulders goosebumps. He wondered why he felt the air current so pronounced against his shoulders. At that point, he realized he was in a sitting position, and he was wearing a tank top. Hard plastic supported his back, curving under his legs. It was a booth or a bench, not a chair.
His upper body inclined forward, arms crossed under his head. Was he lying on a table? He tried to open his eyes again. His eyelids remained heavy.
What kind of hospital puts people in tank tops? And what is that smell? It didn’t smell like a hospital, nor did it smell like the cool morning air he’d experienced when he was outside during the tree incident. No, this smell was something else, something familiar; it was the smell of pizza.
He could already taste the pepperoni, and that was the last bit of motivation he needed to force his eyes open and take in his surroundings. From his head resting on crossed arms position, neck crooked so he was looking to the side, he took it all in.
What he saw wasn’t a hospital. It wasn’t emergency crews rushing to help him. It was something he hadn’t seen in years, not since his childhood. People walked around in gawky animal costumes with gigantic heads. One was a bear. One was a giant mouse. The bear held a microphone. The mouse had a guitar strapped over his shoulder and a cup-shaped hat atop the center of his head. Out of the hat poked a tiny propeller.
They each wore goofy pink and turquoise shirts. The shirts had a Pizza and Games logo embroidered over the left side of their chest.
A non-costumed employee helped customers who sat around a circular, red table. Pete guessed there were more tables, but still unable to move, he could only stare at the one in his line of sight.
On the other side of the table, he saw arcade games, ski ball, and basketball hoops. The hoops were the ones with the ramps under the basket, so the balls return to the shooter after each shot. This version of the machine moved the baskets toward and away from the shooter. Kids occupied all the games, laughing and playing all the while.
“Ugghh…” he grunted as he used his shoulders and arms to push, and he lifted his head up from the table. Joints cracked and popped, but with each passing second, he seemed more awake, more alert. When he gathered enough strength, he lifted his hands over his head, leaned back, and stretched.
“Ah, good, you’re awake.” The voice was male, and it spoke in a British accent, one of the more proper dialects, one Pete would expect to hear from royalty or nobility.
He moved his eyes in the direction of the sound. When they fell upon the source, they widened, and his heart began to beat heavy.
It came from a cat, sitting across from him at the same table. It wasn’t a human in a cat costume like the mouse and bear from before. This was an actual, true to life, talking cat. Its face was that of a cat, anyway, covered in black hair with a familiar white spot on its forehead. In more ways than not, its body and size seemed human, aside from the smooth black fur which coated its arms and shoulders.
Pete assumed the fur-covered the rest of the animal as well. But he couldn’t tell for sure…because it wore a bright orange tank top, covering its chest. A print of a lizard wearing sunglasses rested in the center of the tank top.
Pete looked down at his own tank top. They matched. He groaned, embarrassed by the wardrobe. Then he realized things were much worse than the tank top. He wasn’t wearing any pants. This must be a nightmare, he convinced himself; I’m still facedown on the concrete. This is all happening in my brain.
Then he wondered if the cat was wearing pants. Then he realized it didn’t matter. “Is this a dream?”
“A dream?” The cat repeated. “It isn’t real if that’s what you mean?”
“Isn’t real?” Pete’s confusion grew.
The cat sighed, “let me explain. My name is Max. I have something I need to ask you, a request as it were.”
“Max?” Pete remembered the name. “You’re the cat in the tree! You scratched my face. You made me fall!”
“Let bygones be bygones,” Max yawned. “As far as this place goes…it’s an illusion. I wanted you to wake up somewhere where you felt comfortable. If I’m not mistaken, this is such a place?”
Pete glanced. Now that he took the time to look around, to take in everything, he recognized the joint. When he was a kid, his grandfather used to take him to that exact Pizza and Games. They’d go out together on a special day. That’s what his grandpa called them. They’d buy a toy at the store. Then they’d end the day at Pizza and Games. “You brought me to Pizza and Games because you have an important question that you want to ask me?”
“Right,” Max nodded, “now, you’re getting it. I’m so glad you understand. Boy, it is nice to have that out of the way. I worried we’d never get to the point.”
Pete glared. “You knocked me out of a tree.”
“Only because I need your help.” Max shrugged, adding, “should I tell you why I need your help? Or would you like to keep bringing up ancient history?”
“Ancient history?” Pete felt annoyed, and he let some of that agitation tinge his voice. “It was FIVE minutes ago.”
Max shook his head. “It’s like they say; time is relative and all that.”
Pete glared. He would have said something, but he couldn’t think of what to say. The only thing he could do was emote, and the emotion that swelled within him was anger.
“Oh, don’t be like that.” Max sighed. “I can send you back to your world. I can return you to before you climbed the tree to save me. You won’t have to die.” At this point, Max’s voice went from lighthearted to menacing. “And believe me, you did die.” Max let the words sink in—and for Pete, they did sink in—before reverting to his nonchalance. “But first, I need you to do something for me. Shall I tell you what that is?”
“You killed me?” Fear began to replace anger. Pete worried about his family; he felt disappointed that he would never know if Zoey liked him back. He thought she did, but it might have been his imagination. He had so much he wouldn’t accomplish: graduate college, buy a house, have kids someday. Would he never do any of that? Wait, he told himself, realizing he was going about things the wrong way. “You said you can bring me back. In exchange, what do you need me to do for you?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” Max’s whiskers lifted to show pointed teeth beneath an arrogant smile. “That’s very selfless of you.” Pete didn’t miss the sarcasm. “There is a world that needs you to save it.”
“Save it from what?” Pete asked.
“My job is to send you there,” Max explained. “Once there, you’ll need to discover your purpose. At that point, you’ll be able to grow in strength… become the hero that world needs.”
“This is crazy.” Pete shook his head. “You want me to go to a different world than my own, find my purpose, become a hero, and save that world? All this when I couldn’t find my purpose in my own world?”
“Exactly,” Max smiled. “I knew you were a bright one.”
“And if I don’t do it?” Pete raised an eyebrow.
Max squinted his eyes together, the smile on his face turning to a frown. “Then you stay dead, my boy. Your spirit moves on to whatever comes next. That could be better. It could be worse. Regardless, I have a world that needs a hero. Will you be that hero?”
The decision wasn’t a difficult one to make. Pete wasn’t ready to be dead. He’d do whatever he had to so he could return to his life. “Fine, I’ll do it.”
A smile returned to the cat’s face, “good.” And with that, the cat lifted his right arm, put his thumb and middle finger together, and snapped.
A white light filled the room, blinding Pete and forcing him to close his eyes.
3: Greenlake Blinding white…even with his eyes closed, he couldn’t escape it. It filled every inch of his vision. Then, with the same suddenness with which it had filled the room, it was gone. And when he opened his eyes, he was no longer in a room.
Instead, he was cheek down, resting in a soft field of full, green grass. His mind was clear, his muscles energized. As he pushed himself up to a sitting position, he glanced left. The emerald field extended a football field before it began to slope upward. From there, it became a series of waving hills and mounds. He noticed some cows and field workers in that direction.
To his left, the hills became a tree-covered cliff face, rising hundreds of feet into the air. At the top of the cliff, a rock cropped out, forming a platform. He wondered if it was manmade or natural. Either way, it would provide a great view of the surroundings.
To the right, the hilly fields continued as far as he could see. A dirt road split the difference in terrain before turning to the right, running parallel in front of the hills. At the curve, a footpath branched out, winding up the forested incline.
He stood, looked in the other direction, and saw a body of reflective, dark water. Green islands and gray rocks poked out at irregular intervals, coming in all shapes and sizes. Straight ahead, his eyes couldn’t see across the water. Though, the coastline wrapped around on the left and right. It made him think it was a large lake rather than an ocean. He could see a river to one side, a mountain range to the other. High up in the green mountain range, he thought he could see waterfalls. A snow-capped volcano highlighted the beauty of it all.
On the sloping terrain that ran down to the lake, at a distance of no more than fifty paces, someone had built a town. From his position in the outskirts of town, he could see the whole of it. Three streets ran parallel with the lake, spaced one block apart from each other. Many other streets ran up and down the slope, connecting the three longer streets. A single dirt road provided the only way in and out of town. It was the same road that he’d noticed near the wavey fields of green.
Other than for a large, yellow building, and a terminal with carriages, he couldn’t tell the difference between a residence and a business. The design of everything reminded him of an old European town. It was something that might belong in a Disney movie or Grimm’s Fairytales.
Pete would hesitate to call any of the structures a house. Instead, he felt inclined to call them cabins. He half expected a line of dwarves to leave one while carrying pickaxes over their shoulders.
No sooner had this thought entered his mind when he noticed a door open on one of the cabins. A line of bearded men exited the cabin. Where his distance from the town made it difficult to tell for sure, they seemed short and fat. He checked for pickaxes but didn’t see any.
“Close enough,” he whispered to himself, shrugging.
He watched other people in the town’s streets. Where most of them were human, some were not. His eyes scanned around, identifying the races that he could: elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs, and gnomes. He could have sworn there were even pixies buzzing about, but he wouldn’t be sure until he got closer.
“I have two questions for you, son,” a gruff voice pulled him away from his thoughts, and he turned to its source. The man before him was human, clad from shoulder to toe in worn, steel armor. He held a shield in his left hand; a sword hung from his left hip. Well-groomed, brown hair sat atop his head, parted on the left. The bushy mustache over the man’s lip reminded him of a caterpillar that seemed to crawl as the man spoke. “First, are you okay?”
“Good,” the man sighed, “then, son, my second question is this… What in the name of the moderators are you wearing?”
Wearing? Pete’s eyes widened in horror when he remembered his pantless, tank top look. He glanced down and sighed with relief. He was back in his pizza uniform.
“It’s the uniform that my job gave me,” Pete explained. When Pete said his first word to the guard, he noticed something strange. A name appeared above the guard’s head. It read Nick Warman. Next to the name, Pete saw LVL 10. It reminded him of playing a massive multiplayer online role playing game but in real life. MMORPG’s were his favorite games, so he thought it was cool.
“Job?” The guard repeated. Eyes squinting, he looked Pete’s vestment up and down, an incredulous frown on his face. The eccentric mustache accented the expression. “And what kind of job do you do?”
“I work in food,” Pete answered, pulling off his hat and pointing at the logo. “See. Pizza.”
“Pizza?” The guard shook his head. “I’ve never heard of that? Is it better than steak?” Before Pete could answer, the frown on the guard’s face disappeared, and the guard began to laugh in a high pitched giggle. It was a weird contrast to his deep voice. “Of course, it isn’t as good as steak. Nothing is as good as steak.”
Did Nick Warman tell a joke and then laugh at his own joke? Pete couldn’t tell for sure. “I’ll have to make you a pizza sometime.” Pete offered. “You might like it.”
“It is possible,” the guard began to regain his composure. “You stay out of trouble. Okay, son? I’m going to continue my rounds. Have a nice day. Welcome to Greenlake.”
“Yeah,” Pete said, “you, too.” Greenlake must be the name of the town, he realized. Seems appropriate.
As the guard walked away, his armor clanked. Pete watched the clanking man for a few seconds. All the while, he wondered what to do next. The cat had said that Pete had to become a hero. How could he do that? As he contemplated these things, a fly landed on Pete’s neck. By reflex, he swung his palm up, slapping…and connecting. At the same second he killed the insect, he heard a chime, and a text box appeared, filling his vision.
4: Flies Give One XP Looking at the white words against the blue background, he read the prompt.
You defeated the fly! You gained one experience point!
While his eyes traced along with the words, an ominous voice spoke. He knew he was the only one who could hear it. Even so, it was loud and tangible, each word echoing. He reread the prompt, and the voice read with him.
You defeated the fly! You gained one experience point!
Then he decided to try something. He began at the beginning of the prompt again.
He stopped, and so did the voice. Then he read the prompt, again, repeating words and jumping back and forth between others. The voice read whichever word he did, creating a weird kind of beatbox.
You defeated… defeated… you…defeated… fly… defeated… You defeated the fly. Point. Point. Point. Defeated… defeated. You defeated the fly. Point.
Pete chuckled, amused with the makeshift song. Then he asked himself, “how do I close this window. He saw an X on a tab in the top right. Before he could figure out what to do with it, another prompt came, covering the first one.
You gained .5 slapping proficiency.
A third box appeared.
You gained .5 slapping defense.
Slapping defense? He wondered. Did I raise my defense by slapping myself? If that’s the case, building up my defense won’t be difficult at all. He slapped himself on the chest.
You gained .5 slapping proficiency. Slapping proficiency raises to level one.
You gained .5 slapping defense. Slapping defense raises to level one.
Pete continued to slap himself until his proficiency and defense both raised to level ten. At that point, he stopped receiving bonuses for slapping himself, so he stopped slapping himself; there is no point in slapping yourself if you don’t get anything out of it.
Though he couldn’t see straight ahead, not with all the prompts filling his vision. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed some people staring at him. When Pete realized he had an audience, he tried to focus on something positive. At least he was wearing pants. That made his situation better than when he had been in the pizza and games with Max. So what if he was slapping himself?
Before he did anything else, he wanted to figure out how to close the prompts, so he tried a few things. First, he lifted his hand, trying to push at the tab with the X. It didn’t work…he noticed more people watching him. “Gah,” he whispered, no longer able to compartmentalize, grumbling about how much he hated when people watched him.
After poking his finger in the air didn’t work, he tried using his whole hand. He tried pulling down from the tab. He tried staring at the X and willing the menu to close. Nothing worked.
Since he couldn’t close the menus, he wondered if he could open his status screen. Once there, he figured he’d find a tutorial. The tutorial would show him how to close windows.
But how could he open his status menu? When he thought about it, a notification appeared.
Open status menu?
Yes, he said in his mind, hoping it would work to open the menu. A new prompt appeared over the last one:
Confirm opening status menu?
“Yes,” he shouted aloud. “YES!” As he shouted, people continued to stare. He looked away from them, and after a short delay, his status menu opened.
His main status screen opened.
submitted by elsharkwalker