Thursday, November 8, 2018
SIXTEEN: TOO MANY CHANNELS
PETER PEMBLETON GLANCED AT the clock on the wall. It was nearly Two in the morning. He flipped through the few hundred channels he had available to him thanks to the satellite dish on his roof. Four hundred and ninety-seven channels to be exact. Close to five hundred, and he could find only crap.
Would it kill one of these stations to play Gunsmoke once in a while? He thought.
Still, he continued to roll through the stations.
He never slept. Not anymore. An unfortunate side effect of the ring. He’d worn it for so long that it continued to rule him even after all this time. But he had no regrets. Even after what had happened to Cecilia, no regrets. He’d had his normal life, no matter how brief.
The old man sighed and looked through the list of movies on demand. He had seen them all at least four times. Well, those that weren’t full of sex and violence, which was most of them. It was a shame what the world had come to, and frankly, he could only see it getting worse.
He turned to one of the music channels and listened to the songs of his youth: Swing. He closed his eyes and floated among the horns; the trumpets, trombones, clarinets, and saxophones. He thought of Cecilia and the first time they had danced. She had known who he was; he’d told her everything that first night. She had been his one, his only, his life.
Then the earth shook as if struck by a giant hammer. Thinking it was an earthquake, Peter quickly shuffled over to stand under a doorway, but there was nothing more following the one tremor. Still, he waited another minute before going back to his recliner and clicking through the four hundred and ninety-seven channels once again.
It wasn’t long before he found something about the quake on one of the dozens of twenty-four hour news stations. They were calling it an impact tremor, but so far a cause had not been found. There wasn’t much more to the story than that, but it didn’t stop the attractive man and woman at the news desk from talking about it for the next thirty minutes. To fill time they were interviewing anyone on the street they could find. They all had the same story:
“I was walking along and the ground started shaking beneath me. Well, I was scared, I thought it was an earthquake, but then it was over.”
Peter shook his head at the waste of air time the so-called news was nowadays.
He put the remote down and shuffled around a bit in the kitchen. He made a ham sandwich with cheese and mayonnaise, pulled a half gallon of milk from the fridge and poured out a half a glass. Then, juggling the plate and glass, he took his seat once more in the recliner, placing his snack on the small tray table.
The music washed over Peter as he ate and he couldn’t help but smile once he’d finished off the sandwich. It was moments such as this – the quiet times when it seemed as if he was the only one awake in the world – when he would laugh silently to himself over how different his life was now.
Three decades ago his life had been nonstop. He always been on the move. He’d spent more time as Captain Might then he had as Peter Pembleton. He’d saved the world more than once and he’d saved the city so often that he’d lost count. Most of it was a fog anymore. He could remember his time as Captain Might in a broad, sweeping picture, but the specifics escaped him. Like a movie he’d sat through years ago. He could, however, recall with startling clarity the time he’d told Gerald that he was going to retire.
He frowned, thinking back on it. It still pained him to walk through that particular memory. He could recall the betrayal that had shown on Gerald’s face and could imagine how he must have felt. In time, of course, Gerald had grown to understand, and he did eventually forgive Peter, but that had not been one of his better days.
His earlier conversation with Gerald had begun to gnaw at him. He understood Gerald’s anger and he sympathized with the man, but he simply wasn’t interested in the same thing that Gerald was. It was Peter’s ring, so it was Peter’s choice. Gerald had always believed that if Peter wasn’t going to be Captain Might, then someone else should be. While there had always been a part of Peter that agreed with Gerald, he never liked Gerald’s choice for the ring.
Yet, despite the anger and harsh words, regardless of the years the two spent in silence, Peter knew that Gerald would help Oliver. There just wasn’t any way the man would say no. In the end he knew that if anyone else was going to be Captain Might, Gerald would want to be there to make sure it was being done the way the old Brit wanted it done.
Finished with the sandwich and milk, Peter rinsed out the empty glass and placed it and the plate together in the sink. Then he returned to his recliner, the remote, and the four hundred and ninety-seven channels.
After the third time through the channels, Peter landed on Branded, a western serial from the 60’s starring Chuck Connors. It was no Gunsmoke, but it would do. He put the remote down on the tray next to the chair, and settled in for a good old fashioned shoot-em-up.
A sudden and persistent knocking at the front door caused Peter sit up higher in the chair. He must have fallen asleep because the last thing he recalled watching on the television were the opening credits to Branded, and now he was seeing the closing. He pressed the mute button on the remote and glanced up at the clock. Three O’clock in the morning. Who would be knocking on his door at this time?
“Who is it?” he called out.
“Oliver Jordan, Mr. Pembleton.” It was Oliver alright. He recognized the voice, though muffled as it was coming through the door. “I need to talk to you, sir. It’s important.”
“Oliver?” Peter rose from the chair and opened the door to find young Oliver standing on the porch. His clothes were ripped and torn. The boy was covered in dirt and mud and he looked more than a little shaken.
“What’s the matter, my boy?” Peter asked, but he feared he already knew the answer.
Oliver had only one thing to say however, and it wasn’t in response to Peter’s question.
Instead, Oliver had a question of his own.
“What did you do to me!?”