~ a short story 

What a strange, stupid — hilarious — device to go to all this trouble for…

Radulf Rhodes II giggled to himself in the driver’s seat. But he was also starting to feel like the dumbest criminal in the world. On the run again, in danger of losing everything. Again

Sirens wailed behind him on Highway 99 as he swerved between rush hour traffic in a stolen Trans-Am. Stolen years ago, to the point that no one would even remember or care anymore. It was Radulf’s most golden getaway vehicle. Undefeated. He still had it after all. And now he was using it to get away quite poorly on a most important job. 

He drafted off the tailgate of a Trailblazer and shot the gap between a jacked up truck and an 18-wheeler, speeding well beyond 100 miles per hour. The pack of cops got caught in the resulting swerves and stops from the pedestrians, and the sirens faded for a spell. “Rad” raced past car after car, easily drifting between their honks. 

The thrill of the drive never got old. That was Radulf’s chosen role in the old squad – getaway man. “The Sinister Six.” What a foolish name; they were all comic book nerds in their scumbag high school days. Radulf was the only one left of the six on the outside, or above ground. He tried not to think about them anymore. He missed them more than sometimes. 

Radulf had more important things to worry about. He glanced over to the box in his passenger seat, upright and belted down. He could hear the device rattling and winced, sped up. 

The young father was wearing his custom leather jacket, those scuffed working man jeans, and a pair of black boots reserved for hot action. The kind of stuff he’d do with The Sinister Six back then. He’d tell his daughter they were his little “adventures,” conferences from his career as a traveling bookie. Radulf was always proud of the cleverness of that lie – preparing her for the shadows of adulthood but with a charming optimism for finding a way through.  

It was Maddie’s birthday and she wanted to start a band. Sure, she was ten. But Radulf thought wholly abiding such a young girl’s dream was a way for him to earn his way back into her life. Her mother, and his ex-wife, wouldn’t let him back in any other way. Maddie’s wishes were both of their commands, in consequentially different ways. It’s why they were separated. Kids changed everything. Especially when it came to dangerous professions. 

No matter what, Radulf intended to stay out of the pen this time. He was out and he’d stay out. Find a job. Do things the right way. Once she dropped that loser, maybe even get back together with-

Blue and red flashes startled the trained driver from his reverie. Up ahead on the highway, they glared an end to his solo job. Police roadblock, likely a spike strip too. 

On instinct, Radulf cut off an exterminator’s van with a giant cartoonish mosquito smoking a cig on it to make the exit. In a flash, his mind was rerouting the best way to get to a “garage.” There were a few places that would hide him. He’d just have to lose the cops first.

Nothing ever went as planned for him. Radulf grew up on the streets, learned how to live from people in the gutter. Fighting, stealing, even worse. It was all commonplace. “Rad” was still alive because he excelled in high pressure situations. 

As Radulf approached the exit and encountered yet another police presence awaiting him, the European Council for Nuclear Research’s Large Hadron Collider fired. Landscapes away, the black matter befitting previously only the unknown holes in our reality was manipulated by human scientists to produce itself into the Universe we call home. 

The energy moved with singular focus, through the glass and steel and lead walls of the scientific institute tapping a power beyond human reason, and into the Trans-Am housing one Radulf Rhodes II. 

At the moment of his failure, speeding too fast to brake in time before he came within firing range of their kill zone, Radulf let go of the wheel. So the pigs want me dead dead. He turned to his passenger seat and thought of Maddie’s smile. Happy birthday baby girl. There, he hugged the box containing a stolen keytar; a fully decked out Roland AX-Edge 49-Key Keytar Synthesizer, to be precise. 

The dark matter touched down upon Rad right then and there, before the coming crash. 

Shredder was born. 

Rad’s blue jeans added rhinestones and his spine grew mammalian-style wings, like that of a bat. His action boots grew tassles. Instantly – and luckily for him – painlessly, the young man’s skin and muscle evaporated. His soul still animated him as conscious, and himself. His memories stayed and his hair grew long upon a barren skull housing a spectral brain. 

And even more instantaneously, as heavenly lightning landed onto the keys under his fingers, Rad was filled with power. Power beyond belief. Truly. 

Gloved bone fingers grabbed the neck of the keytar and rung a note right as the Trans-Am exploded onto a scene of bullets and fire. 

Radulf played a song like never before heard. 

The bullets were unmade along with the guns. The cops came soon after. 

When Radulf “Rad” Rhodes II – the new Shredder – landed back down onto the exit ramp of Highway 99 from his rockstar leap, the world was cleansed of such things forever. ~

~ art by Matt Cunningham