Wednesday, June 27, 2018

SIX: THE GENERAL OF RU'IN

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OLIVER LEFT THE PIZZA Dude and crossed the lot with an underwhelming sense of accomplishment. The pizza pans had been scrubbed clean and everyone had been allowed to leave. He stood next to his car and dialed his home number into his cell phone, watching the ungrateful teens laugh and scream and do all the annoying things teens do at night when their parents aren’t around to shut them up.

The phone rang in his ear, and Oliver thought of his own children. While these teenagers that worked nights with him at the Pizza Dude weren’t really bad kids, they tended to have very little respect for their elders, and Oliver vowed to stamp this defect out of his own children before it began to take root. First, he had banned all of those television shows that played on the network with the mouse. Most of them seemed to be about kids getting away with stuff and getting one over on their parents.

Not in the Jordan household.

His girls hadn’t put up a fuss. They had neither cable nor satellite, so they didn’t get that channel anyway.

He put a fist in the small of his back and stretched as the phone rang. He looked over at the teenagers again and realized that he might be more than a little cranky about things. Before he could follow the thread of that thought the call connected.

“Hello?” Elyse spoke through the phone.

“Hi, Hon. I’m on my way home.”

“Yay! I miss you so much. Hurry!”

“I will.”

“But be safe.”

“I will.”

“But hurry.”

“I will hurry safely.”

“That’s all a woman can ask for.”

“I love you,” Oliver Jordan said to his wife.

“I love you too,” Elyse Jordan said to her husband.

Oliver disconnected and climbed into the car. He fiddled with his MP3 player, queuing up the latest episode of the Comic Rock podcast as he waited for everyone else to leave. Oliver liked to make sure that no one was left behind.

His first night working at the Pizza Dude, Oliver had been in his car and racing for home before anyone else had even left the lot. Five minutes later he got a nagging feeling that ate at his gut.

What if one of those kids weren’t able to get their car started?

What if they were stranded and no one was around to help?

Sure, they all had their own phones nowadays, but what if the battery was empty due to the nonstop texting they did when they were supposed to be working?

So Oliver had turned around to check. The lot was empty, but he had felt better about the entire situation, and from then on did not leave until he was sure that everyone else was good to go.

Oliver continued to fiddle with his MP3 player as the rest of the crew drove away, and soon he was alone in the lot. He plugged the MP3 player into the car stereo and had clicked his seat belt on when a bright light enveloped him.

His mouth went dry and a solitary “Um”, was the only response he could come up with under the circumstances.

Out of nowhere, a figure appeared next to the car. It was thin, tall, and bald. In the light Oliver could see it didn’t look human. Its ears were pointy and its skin was grey and looked like the cracked granite counter tops his parent’s had just installed in their kitchen. It wore what looked to be a dark blue uni-tard with a big letter R on it.

Oliver reached over and locked his door.

“Step out of the car,” the creature said in perfect English.

“What?” Oliver said, pretending he couldn’t hear the thing through the closed window.

In high school, when faced with fear and the threat of violence, Oliver would often use humor as a deflection technique to avoid getting beat up. Most of his classmates took this not as a way to deal with a terrifying situation, but instead as nothing more than the mocking jibes of a jerk just itching for a pounding.

Oliver got beat up a lot in school.

“Step out of the car!”

“What?” Oliver repeated.

The creature looked annoyed. Oliver just shrugged his shoulders as if to say, I don’t know.

The creature pointed a finger at Oliver, twirling it around in the universal sign for ‘roll down your window’.

Oliver opened the window about an inch, squeezed his face up to the crack so that it was level with his mouth, and spoke.

“Yes?” he said and then moved back to watch the creature through the glass.

“I am the General of Ru’In.”

“Okay.”

“You will step out of the car now or I will burn it to the ground with you inside. If you dare defy me the last thing you will remember before you die will be the smell of your burning flesh!”

“Look, General,” Oliver said, trying his best to sound reasonable. “You seem like a rational, um, person. But here’s the thing. While I’m not too hip on the idea of burning to death in my car, I sort of feel that I’d meet a similar fate if I were to come out there. You know what I’m saying?”

“Do you have the ring?”

“Ring?”

The General raised his right hand so that Oliver could see a ring, very similar to his own, on the General’s middle finger.

“The ring,” the General said. “Like this one.”

“Oh, that ring. Nope, sorry. No rings like that in here.”

“Yes there is,” the General scowled. “I can see it there on your hand.”

“What?” Oliver laughed uncomfortably and quickly put his hand in his pocket. “Sorry, no ring.”

“Do you even know how to use it?” The General began to shake slightly.

Oliver thought for a moment. Did he really know anything about the ring? Obviously there was something to it like Mr. Pembleton had said. He just had to figure out what it was, and he certainly wasn’t going to let this guy have it.

“Ring?” Oliver asked, continuing on his track with the humor.

“I grow weary of this,” the General said, taking a small step back from the car. As he did, the General changed. He grew. Before, he was tall and skinny; a few moments later, he was a hulking mass of muscle. He stood no less than seven feet tall with arms thicker than Oliver’s head, and with legs like the trunks of old oak trees.

Oliver’s fear screamed like a little girl.

“You!” Oliver said. “But...”

“Good, you recognize me,” the General said. “That will make things easier.”

“But, you were beaten?” Oliver said, his voice quavering. “You died… Captain Might…”

The General, ignoring Oliver, reached out with a hand the size of a dinner plate and ripped the driver’s side door off of Oliver’s car as if it was made of facial tissue. He laughed and tossed the door aside like the ad section of the Sunday newspaper.

Oliver scrambled backwards, trying to get into the passenger seat—or really anywhere that this guy couldn’t get him… maybe Texas—but he wasn’t quick enough. The General leaned in and snatched Oliver by the wrist and pulled him from the car like a child’s toy.

The General held Oliver off of the ground with one hand and brought him up to eye level. He took Oliver’s hand—the one with the ring—and forced it up between their faces.

“That ring,” the General growled. His voice was even deeper.

“Oh, okay,” Oliver laughed in that panicky and irrational way that panicky and irrational people do. “That ring. I see. I know what you’re talking about now.”

“Do you have any idea what this ring can do for you?”

“Um,” Oliver swallowed, his arm aching as he hung like a coat. “Not really, no.”

“Where did you get the ring?”

“I found it.”

“Found it?”

“Um… yeah, in a Cracker Jack box. I was hoping for a compass, but you know, you get what you get. Acceptance is the key.”

“You are a foolish, stupid little man.”

“The thought has crossed the minds of more than one from time to time,” Oliver smiled the smile of the insane. He was going to die. No way around it. He thought of Elyse and his little girls.

“I want you to use your ring,” the General shook him. “Transform as I have.”

What? Oliver thought.

“I, uh. I don’t know how,” Oliver said.

“Someone gave you that ring. Surely they told you how to use it.”

“Yeah,” Oliver laughed. “You’d think so.”

“I have no qualms against hurting you, forcing a transformation if necessary.” The General shook him again.

“Information noted,” Oliver groaned. “But as much as I love pain, and believe me, I do love it; I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“So be it,” the General said and casually tossed Oliver over his shoulder.

Oliver went weightless. He was flying and for a moment marveled at the experience. Then he slammed into something and his brief joy fled as his spine impacted. The barrier he’d come against shattered and then something tore at his clothing, his skin, and he felt more pain than he’d ever known.

It didn’t last however as everything went dark.





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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

FIVE: DEEP SPACE YELLOW




A FEW MILLION MILES away, in the darkness of space, a ship floated—silent and waiting. To say that the ship was ugly was to say that the complete absence of light made things a bit murky.

The ship was blocky and contained no sense of symmetry. Its color was a dull grey, the hue of dead fish, and the lights that sat randomly about the thing’s hull blinked out of sequence and were in no way appealing to the eye. It was a massive ship, larger than most small moons, and as it sat among the stars, any passerby would be forced to observe that the stars around it looked as if they wanted nothing at all to do with the thing, thank you very much.

The interior, if anything, was far worse. The main control room appeared to have been designed by the custodian of an insane asylum, but only if said custodian had spent years sleeping through the most expensive architecture, art, and design courses. Chairs were strewn around the room in rather odd places, facing nothing in particular. View screens we set at strange angles, causing one to bend or crane their neck just to see what was on screen. But what mostly made the interior an offense to the eye was the cream yellow coloring that covered every surface.

On the ship’s home world, cream yellow—which was known as a color called barf (a word used only by coincidence as in their alien language barf does not mean the same as it does on Earth)—was said to be the most calming of colors. In reality it made any carbon-based life form that did not originate from the ship’s home world feel the need to extricate their lunch from themselves by any means necessary.

Sitting at a command console in the front of the control room, a robot, designated ComBot 1 (which was, incidentally, the same cream yellow as the room), fiddled with a knob as it read through a series of ones and zeros that flashed across a small monitor in the floor.

Based on the reaction of ComBot 1, the message that scrawled across the screen must have been an important one. Robots aren’t normally known for high levels of excitement, but in this case, ComBot 1 could not hold back its giddiness.

It began by cocking its head slightly to the left. Next it rotated its head .098432 millimeters to the right. The robot was practically bursting its seams.

ComBot 4 had noticed ComBot 1’s odd behavior.

“Sir?” ComBot 4 asked. “Is everything okay?”

“The ring has been activated,” ComBot 1 said.

The other robots (ComBots 2, 3, and 5), who were also fiddling with knobs and gazing into monitors, sat bolt upright at the announcement.

“Wake the General.” ComBot 1 said.

“At once, sir,” ComBot 4 said, standing and saluting before leaving through a large door in the back.

ComBot 4 walked along a dark corridor for a minute or two before coming to a stop before the only door in the entire ship that was not cream yellow in color. This particular door was red—a dark, blood red that would have made ComBot 4 sweat were it designed to excrete liquids. The robot pushed a small cream yellow button next to a small cream yellow speaker and a short buzzing sound was heard from the other side of the door.

“I was not to be disturbed!” said a deep voice from within the room.

“I hear and obey, oh Terribly Powerful and Frightening One, but—”

“But nothing!” This time the voice had come from the cream yellow speaker next to the door. “You have defied a direct order. Take yourself down to the maintenance bay and have yourself melted down at once!”

“Yes sir, oh Benevolent and Merciful, but—”

“You dare to argue?! WITH ME?!”

“Of course not, my divine and illustrious General, but—”

“BE GONE FROM MY DOOR BEFORE I MELT YOU DOWN MYSELF! DO YOU UNDERSTAND!?”

ComBot 4 suddenly found itself in a bit of a quandary. It was perfectly happy to obey the General’s orders, as it was programed, and to walk itself to the maintenance bay for a good melting down. This new order, however, conflicted with an older order in which they were to inform the General the moment the ring was ever activated. As both orders had come from the General, ComBot 4 floundered on what to do.

After much internal debate, which took a mere .232487634 seconds due to the super computer that was the robot’s brain, the ComBot went for broke and shouted out the words: “The ring has been activated my Lord!”

The ComBot pushed these words out so quickly, however, that the message sounded more like this:

“THERINGHASBEENACTIVATEDMYLORD!”

This had been met with silence from the other side of the door.

ComBot 4 waited for a moment, turned away from the door, took a step down the corridor, paused, waited for another moment, turned back, took a step toward the door, waited for an even further moment, then repeated it all again until finally the door slid silently upwards.

“Come in,” said the voice from within the room.

ComBot 4 stepped into the expansive room. Unlike the rest of the ship, the General’s room was red like the door—red walls, red carpeting, red everything—all except for the ivory-white throne in the center of the room upon which the General sat. The General was thin and may have looked frail had it not been for the dark granite-like nature of his skin. The General was tall and hairless. His only raiment was a dark blue body suit with blood red boots and gloves. A symbol ordained the chest of the General’s body suit, its color the same red of his boots. The symbol, though in no language known to the people of Earth, looked much like the letter R.

ComBot 4 walked to the throne and knelt.

“Report,” the General said.

“The ring has been activated, My Lord. Just five minutes ago. On Earth.”

The General stood.

“Take me there,” the General said. “Now.”





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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

FOUR: ONE RING TO DISAPPOINT HIM




SPEEDING BACK TO THE Pizza Dude, Oliver examined the ring by the light of the dashboard.

Crazy old man, he thought, his eyes bouncing back and forth between the ring and the road.

Mr. Pembleton had claimed, as he had handed over the ring, that it was magic, and with it Oliver could make all of his dreams come true. Oliver had just nodded and smiled, took the ring, and got out of there as fast as his legs could carry him.

“Magic ring,” Oliver said aloud. “Bat freaking crazy.” He laughed and dropped the ring next to his phone on the console between the front seats. Three seconds later, the phone vibrated.

Oliver picked up the phone and looked at the screen. It was Elyse. He pushed the Talk button.

“Hello?” he said into the phone.

“Hi, sweetie,” Elyse said. “You about done for the night?”

“Yeah, I just finished my last delivery, I’ll be home soon.”

“How’s Mr. Pembleton?”

“Crazy as ever,” Oliver said.

“Hurry home,” she said. “The girls are asleep and I feel like I haven’t seen you in days.”

“I know that, Hon,” annoyance crept into Oliver’s voice. “But I have to work. If I don’t work, we don’t eat.”

“Oliver, that’s not how I meant it. I know you work hard, and I appreciate it. The girls do to. It’s just that I miss you.”

Now he felt like a complete jerk. His temper often got the better of him.

“I’m sorry,” Oliver said. “I know you do. I miss you too, I’m just tired. I’ll see you soon. I love you.”

“I love you too,” she said into his ear.

Five minutes later Oliver pulled into the lot of the Pizza Dude. He snatched up the ring and phone, sliding them both into his front pants pocket, and headed into the building. As he entered, he nodded to Mr. Crackenmeyer who stood at the counter flipping through a stack of receipts. He could see the rest of the crew sitting at one of the tables in the dining room. They looked annoyed—as if they had somewhere better to be. Of course, they were teenagers, and teenagers always looked like that.

He ignored the looks they threw his way, hoping that their moody sit-in meant that the dirty pans were all washed and that they would soon be leaving.

“You still have a lot of pans left to wash back there,” Crackenmeyer said, not looking up from his receipts as Oliver approached the counter. “We’d like to get out of here before midnight.”

“Why didn’t you have someone else wash them while I was out on delivery?” Oliver asked. He couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.

“Last time I checked, Oliver,” Crackenmeyer said, finally looking up from his receipts. “Washing those pans was your job. Now get to it.”

Oliver sighed and made his way to the back and the sink of pizza pans. Oliver found about fifteen pans waiting to wash. It was so unfair. There was no good reason one of those kids couldn’t have finished up for him instead of sitting around a table texting each other. As nice and understanding as Albert Crackenmeyer could be on occasion, he could also be a real jerk.

Oliver toyed with the idea of quitting, just throwing down his apron and walking away. For a moment his heart soared at the thought of such a bold move. He could almost taste the freedom.

But then reality slapped him in the face like a wet fish.

Quitting wasn’t an option. His family situation was such that you just didn’t walk away from a paying job without having another one lined up and ready to go. Not with the job market the way it was. But that didn’t stop Oliver from fantasizing.

He imagined stripping off his apron, walking calmly to the counter—to Albert J. Crackenmeyer—and telling the man he could finish his own stupid pans, thank you very much. Then he’d just walk out the door, head held high. And hey, because it was a fantasy, he imagined Crackenmeyer chasing him out of the store, begging him not to leave, pleading with him that Crackenmeyer needed him—that Oliver was worth ten of those stupid teenagers. He smiled as the fantasy played out in his head.

It was only after washing the tenth pan that Oliver had come upon a devious plan to strike back at Crackenmeyer and the rest of the crew the only way he knew how. He dried his hands on his apron, hung it on a rack next to the sink, and walked out of the back room and into the dining room.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Crackenmeyer, now sitting with the teenagers, asked.

“Bathroom break, boss?” Oliver asked. He didn’t wait for an answer. He continued on through the dining room to the public restrooms at the back near the jukebox.

Once in the bathroom, he locked the door behind him and smiled at himself in the mirror in smug satisfaction. Maybe now they’ll think twice before messing with Oliver Q. Jordan.

Before taking a seat, Oliver dug the phone out of his pocket. He’d once had his phone fall out of his pocket, and into the toilet, while he had pulled his pants back on... he’d since learned from that mistake. As he pulled the phone free from his pocket, something else came out with it and fell to the tiled floor with a dull thunk. He glanced down and saw it was the ring that Mr. Pembleton had given him. The Ring of Might, the old man had called it.

Oliver retrieved the ring, surprised once again by the weight of the thing, like it was five rings in one. Suddenly, he felt a pulse of energy course through his hand and up his arm, flowing throughout his entire body. It had come from the ring. The pulse had gone as quickly as it had begun, but it had left Oliver dizzy and shaken.

He stared at the ring in his hand. It almost felt alive. He wanted to put it on, needed to put it on, slide it onto the middle finger of his right hand. His mouth had gone dry as a bone and a low ringing filled his ears. He licked his lips.

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, but soon his eyes began to water. He hadn’t blinked. Not once. He just couldn’t take his eyes off of the ring.

He slid the ring onto his finger.

Nothing happened.

He wasn’t sure what he had expected—an earthquake, a chorus of angels, or even a rain of gold falling from the ceiling—but all he got was a great big bunch of nothing. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Not nothing exactly. His mouth was no longer dry and the ringing in his ears had stopped, but he just figured that there would be more to a magic ring.

He shook his head, dismissing it all as the crazy nonsense of a senile old man, dropped his pants, and sat down on the cold toilet seat, the ring all but forgotten.





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Thursday, June 7, 2018

THREE: MR. PEMBLETON'S RING




OLIVER MASHED THE BRAKE to the floor and the car slid to a screeching halt. Just inches beyond the bumper lay the crumpled remains of the top six or so feet of a cell phone tower. It rocked in place for a moment before coming to rest, the steel bars melted and burnt at one end where it had separated from from the rest of the tower. Before Oliver could so much as breathe; a woman in a purple bodysuit leaped atop the fallen tower and hurled lightning bolts at a man in red and yellow.

Great, Oliver thought. Just what I need, a pair of Mighties in my way.

The woman, Lady Lightning, had the power to create bolts of lightning out of thin air, and then throw them at whatever she felt needed to be hit by one: Bank vaults, armored cars, and—of course—her arch nemesis, Spitfire.

Spitfire was the man in red with yellow boots, gloves, and cape. He had the ability to breathe fire. Great searing gouts of it. It was fairly obvious that it was Spitfire and his lava breath that had toppled the tower.

Oliver rolled down his window, leaned his head out, and gave the horn a couple of really good honks.

“Come on!” Oliver shouted at the two colorful combatants. “Take this somewhere else! Some of us are going to be late for work!”

The two Mighties, as was typical from those of their ilk, ignored Oliver completely and continued with their fight. This never would have happened when Captain Might was still around.

Oliver had no choice, he put the car in reverse and backed away, forced to find another route around the battle zone and try his best to arrive at work on time.

The Pizza Dude was, at one time, a local favorite. Called simply the Dude by Garrison residents, it was a favorite no longer. The Dude made its home in an area of Garrison called Waynestown, a once-modern shopping district catering to the upper middle class living in the nearby posh suburb of Flatsburg. Unfortunately, the area in which the Dude resides had been devastated during the epic battle between Captain Might and General Ruin in 1994.

The Pizza Dude sat alone among the graves of bygone burger joints, clothing stores, and other various retail outlets. For some of the Dude’s former neighbors, all that remained were burned out shells—husks with gaping holes where the walls used to be. Others were just piles of rubble or empty lots. The Dude remained standing.

No one dined at the Dude anymore. They didn’t like to be reminded how quickly a thriving district like Waynestown could just disappear off the map. If it wasn’t for its free delivery service, the Dude would have died that day as well.

Oliver pulled into the lot—empty but for the cars of the other employees—as the clock on his dash hit three minutes after six. He was out of the car, through the lot, and into the restaurant before four minutes after.

“You’re late, Jordan!”

Albert Crackenmeyer—owner of the Pizza Dude and Oliver’s boss—was a short man with thinning hair. Most people meeting Albert for the first time took him for a man in his sixties, but truth be told, he was ten years Oliver’s junior.

The Dude had been in the Crackenmeyer family for three generations, starting with Greg Crackenmeyer, Albert’s grandfather, who first opened its doors in 1967. The honor then passed to Philip Crackenmeyer when Greg and his wife Janine died in the Praxian invasion of ’82.

Albert took over ownership at the age of eighteen when the lives of his parents, Phillip and May, ended in a freak meteor shower. This state of affairs—which fell on the day he had graduated high school—put an end to what had promised to be an epic four years of partying and debauchery at State college.

“Sorry, Albert,” Oliver said, bustling past Crackenmeyer and rushing into the back room to change into his Pizza Dude hat and apron. “I got hung up by Lady Lightning and Spitfire.”

Crackenmeyer sighed loudly. “Hey, it’s okay, it happens.”

Most people expected Albert Crackenmeyer to be a cantankerous boss, and on some days he really could be, what with missing college and the drinking and the debauchery. The truth of the matter was that Albert Crackenmeyer was really right where he wanted to be.

“Thanks, boss,” Oliver said, facing a sink full of black, crusty pizza pans. Now it was Oliver’s turn to sigh.

“You know,” Oliver said. “This is the part about pizza delivery no one ever talks about.”

“What do you want me to say, Ollie,” Crackenmeyer said. “You get paid by the hour. I can’t be having you standing around doing nothing in between deliveries. You gotta be doing something, and someone has to wash the pizza pans. So that honor falls to you.”

“Great. Thanks,” Oliver said.

“Hey, think of it this way. You get all them pans washed, you can fold boxes.”

Oliver laughed.

“Who would have thought that someone had to assemble pizza boxes,” Oliver said. “I always thought those things came ready-made.”

“Nothing’s ready-made anymore, Ollie. Someone has to make them.”

Crackenmeyer left him to his dirty pans and his thoughts. There were a lot of things about the Pizza Dude that Oliver didn’t like: Being away from home for so long, interacting with customers face to face and—of course—washing pans.

There were, in fact, three delivery drivers each night. But two of them helped make the pizzas between deliveries, and they were both off by Nine when everything died down.

The only thing Oliver liked about the Pizza Dude was the time he spent in the car while out on deliveries. It was one of the few times in his life that he felt like his own man. He didn’t have a customer chattering in his ear, he was free to make his own decisions, and he could be his own boss.

In the car he could be alone with his thoughts and for a time, forget the stresses in his life. First and foremost among those stresses that weighed heavily upon his soul were the bills that piled higher and higher each day. He’d first put the unpaid bills in a folder he kept on his desk in the spare room. He’d soon replaced the folder with a shoe box. Even then the shoe box couldn’t keep up and now a single drawer in the desk held all of their debts.

It’s why he worked the two jobs. He had a wife and two little girls at home who depended on him, so the money had to come from somewhere.

This was his life… and he saw nothing changing in the foreseeable future.

Oliver sighed and turned the tap on the faucet. He dreamed of better things, happier days, as the sink filled with hot, soapy water.

Four hours, fifteen deliveries, and a few dozen pizza pans later, Oliver was behind the wheel of the trusty Pizza Dude delivery car. The rusted out white 2001 Toyota Corolla boasted power steering, an AM/FM stereo, an inoperable air conditioner, and over three hundred thousand miles on the odometer. Oliver felt at peace as he cruised down Route 20 toward his last delivery of the night: Mr. Pembleton.

Soon his day would be done.

Now that was something to smile about.

It had started to become a regular thing—ending his night with a delivery to Mr. Pembleton. At least it had been for the last few months. Oliver had never met Mr. Pembleton before that night seven months ago when he had stopped a teenager from mugging the old man at an ATM outside the First National Bank of Garrison. The old man had been so grateful that he’d wanted to give Oliver a reward there on the spot. Oliver had politely refused, telling the old man that he was running late for work. Besides, he’d really done nothing more than give a shout which had scared the young thief away. But Mr. Pembleton would hear nothing of it.

“Late for work, eh?” Mr. Pembleton had said. “And where might that be, maybe I can make a call, speak to your boss for you?”

“I deliver pizzas for the Pizza Dude,” Oliver said. “And really, you don’t need to do that. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Oliver saw Mr. Pembleton safely into a taxi and went off to work—late again. Later that night he found himself delivering the old man a medium supreme with no olives, and Pembleton had tipped him fifty dollars for “Exceptional delivery services”.

That’s when it had begun—his final delivery of the night. Oliver worked every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday; and he could always count on the fact that he’d see Mr. Pembleton at the end of each night. He didn’t mind, he rather liked the old man, and he did tip well. Not the fifty bucks he got that first night, but he did okay.

Mr. Pembleton lived at the end of a long and winding gravel driveway—which was at the end of a long and winding gravel country road—out in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t an easy place to find. Oliver had gone past the drive four times that first night before he’d even realized it was there. Then there was the house itself. It was a two story ranch-style with a small enclosed porch that hadn’t known the touch of a paintbrush in at least two decades. Oliver had never been out to the house in the daytime, but at night the place practically lurked out there at the end of the drive. Oliver often felt more than a little trepidation each time he pulled in.

And tonight was no exception.

Soon Oliver stood on the old man’s porch holding the medium supreme (no olives) in an insulated pizza bag. He rang the doorbell. It took a few minutes but after listening to the old man shuffle about inside the big house, the sound of Mr. Pembleton’s voice greeted him from the other side of the door.

“Who is it?” the old man said.

“Pizza Dude, Mr. Pembleton,” Oliver said in a loud voice so that he could be heard through the thick oak door.

The door swung open and there stood Mr. Pembleton. He was thin and bent with gray hair, liver spots, and walked with a cane. He had often reminded Oliver of the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, only more haggard and spindly. Yet, despite the frailness of the old man’s appearance, Oliver could see an unyielding strength sparkle somewhere deep with Mr. Pembleton’s eyes.

“Ah, yes. Oliver Jordan. How nice to see you again,” Mr. Pembleton said, then, gesturing with his cane, invited Oliver in. “Come in, come in.”

“Thank you sir,” Oliver said, crossing the threshold.

The front room was tidy, but lived in. At the far end of the room sat a large television. Before it was a well-worn recliner with a TV tray on a stand sitting at its side. On the tray were always five things: A glass of water, the remote control for the television, the most recent copy of TV Guide, a book of crossword puzzles, and a pen. Oliver had once asked Mr. Pembleton if he used the pen to fill in the crossword, wondering what he would do if he got a word wrong.

“I don’t get the word wrong, my boy,” the old man had replied. “That’s the key to crosswords.”

Oliver looked now at the book, remembering the conversation, and smiled.

“Sit, Oliver, sit,” Mr. Pembleton was saying. “I’ll just find my wallet and then you can be on your way.”

Along the wall to the left of the television sat an old couch covered in plastic. Oliver took a seat, perched on the edge of the cushion and waited, the bag with the pizza resting on his lap.

“How are the kids?” Mr. Pembleton called from the bedroom.

“Oh, you know,” Oliver said. “As well as could be expected, I suppose.”

“Such beautiful children you have, my boy, such a beautiful pair of little girls. Be proud, my boy,” the old man called again from the bedroom.

“Thank you, sir,” Oliver called back. “I am.” Oliver smiled and shook his head. Like he’s ever met them.

And yet, now that Oliver thought about it, how did Mr. Pembleton know he had two girls?

Well, he thought, I must have talked about them. I may have even shown the old man pictures from my phone.

Still, he figured, it was rather odd. He wasn’t allowed to think on it too long however, as Mr. Pembleton returned with wallet in hand.

“And your wife?” Mr. Pembleton asked. “How’s Elyse these days?”

“She’s good, Mr. Pembleton. She’s good.”

“That is certainly good to hear, my boy, certainly good to hear. Now, down to business. How much do I owe you?”

“It’s ten dollars even, sir,” Oliver said, rising. It was always ten dollars even.

“Dagnabit,” Mr. Pembleton said, rifling around in his wallet. “I’ve only got but a ten dollar bill.” He held the bill out to Oliver. “That leaves you without a tip, my boy.”

“That’s okay, Mr. Pembleton,” Oliver said, taking the ten and holding out the pizza.

“No, no it isn’t,” Mr. Pembleton ignored the pizza, scratched at his head, and looked angry. “I don’t like the idea of you leaving empty handed.”

“It’s really okay, Mr. Pembleton.”

“Nope, I have just the thing,” Mr. Pembleton was obviously having none of it. “You just wait right here,” and he was off again to the bedroom.

Oliver stood in the tidy living room and waited. He glanced at his watch, it was a little past Ten, the Pizza Dude would be closed by now and he could imagine the rest of the crew finishing up for the night and waiting for his return so that they could all leave.

“Here you go, son,” Mr. Pembleton shuffled into the room holding a thick golden ring before him. He handed the ring to Oliver.

“A ring?” Oliver said, holding it in the palm of his hand.

The weight of the ring almost caused him to drop it. It was just a plain band of gold, thicker than most, certainly thicker than his wedding band, and wider, but much heavier than the size would garner. “I don’t understand.”

“Well now,” Mr. Pembleton said, a twinkle in his eye and a laugh in his voice. “That isn’t just any ring, my boy. That there is the Ring of Might.”

“The Ring of Might?”

“Tell me, Oliver Jordan,” Mr. Pembleton’s voice dropped a decibel or two and all trace of laughter fled, replaced by the solemnity of a heart surgeon delivering important news to a family member.

“Have you ever wanted to fly?”





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