Originally published in The Lyndon Review.
He walks across the baseball field where we like to hang out. His left hand swings casually at his side, but his right fist lies hidden in the deep pockets of his navy blue corduroys. The crisp autumn air has left the field abandoned for weeks now, and the pitcher’s mound lies covered in the dead Technicolor of Vermont leaves. He brushes the old foliage away with his foot, never removing the secret from his pocket. Climbing onto the mound, he stands as close to heaven as either of us will ever get. He points his head toward the setting sun. His hand shoots out to follow his line of vision, finally revealing the secret on his right index finger. The small plastic band still glows green from its hiding place in darkness. He smiles as I let out a gasp of awe.
It’s his power ring. It cost him two proofs of purchases and half of his allowance for shipping and handling, but it has finally arrived.
The newspaper hit the doorstep, blindsiding me. We hadn’t seen each other for at least five years, but there he was on the front page. Metal rings cuffed his hands behind him, and a police officer pushed him into the back of a patrol car. The same eyes that I recognized from the grade school playground stared toward the camera, glazed and filled with tears.
“Two Shot Dead.”
About halfway down the page they had pictures of his two victims. The first images looked like they had come out of a high school yearbook, with the individuals smiling in the prepared perfection of a senior picture. Contrasted with these images was a pair of body bags on the floor of a trailer.
I reached inside my pocket and touched his ring.
For such a simple object, the power ring has many amazing abilities. It glows in the dark, illuminating the blackest of nights and inspiring fear in the hearts of evildoers. It grants the wearer super strength, an iron will, and the ability to travel across space and time. Best of all, it can only be used by the pure of heart. Those who would abuse the power can never wield the ring.
I begged him for weeks to borrow it. I didn’t want to keep it; I just wanted to see the power in action. I figured we could share time fighting crime, but he would have none of it.
“I’ll give you the address. You can get your own and we’ll be a team.”
I couldn’t wait. One day after baseball practice I slipped into his room and saw the ring sitting on his dresser. I couldn’t help myself…
The ring never worked for me.
In the old days, back in the Silver Age of comics, you always knew the good guys from the bad guys. It was so obvious that it was sometimes literally the difference between black and white. Things have changed so much, and now the best of us can fall from grace at any time.
I attended his trial, staying in the back where I hoped he wouldn’t notice me. The judge asked for his plea, and his lawyer said not guilty. But his face filled with fear, and I could see how far he had fallen. I tried to convince myself that it was like the old days, one of those old plots where the hero got framed by some clever villain. He knew that he hadn’t done it, but he had to abide by the law’s decision. That’s what heroes did; they preserved the order and they always abided by the law. Eventually the villain would slip up and one of the hero’s friends, usually his kid sidekick, would find the proof necessary to clear his name. I watched the trial attentively: every exhibit, every testimony. It all synched up. No holes that indicated a frame-up, no questionable motives. He hated those people. I don’t know why, but he hated them enough to unload a shotgun on them. One barrel for each victim.
I hadn’t read comic books in years, and I didn’t expect the old rules to apply anymore. It still cut into my soul days later when the jury found him guilty.
“Two life sentences, to be served consecutively.”
I watched him leave the courtroom in handcuffs, his eyes looking straight forward and his mind closed to the buzz of voices around him. I got a good look at his face, and wondered if any of it would have happened if he still had his power ring.
Image: Green Lantern #10, DC Comics