I took a deep breath. Cheer up, I told myself. I must have retained some of my godly abilities. Matters could be worse.

A raspy voice called, “Hey, Cade, take a look at this loser.”

Blocking the alley’s exit were two young men: one squat and platinum blond, the other tall and redheaded. Both wore oversize hoodies and baggy pants. Serpentine tattoo designs covered their necks. All they were missing were the words I’M A THUG printed in large letters across their foreheads.

The redhead zeroed in on the wallet in my hand. “Now, be nice, Mikey. This guy looks friendly enough.” He grinned and pulled a hunting knife from his belt. “In fact, I bet he wants to give us all his money.”

I blame my disorientation for what happened next.

I knew my immortality had been stripped away, but I still considered myself the mighty Apollo! One cannot change one’s way of thinking as easily as one might, say, turn into a snow leopard.

Also, on previous occasions when Zeus had punished me by making me mortal (yes, it had happened twice before), I had retained massive strength and at least some of my godly powers. I assumed the same would be true now.

I was not going to allow two young mortal ruffians to take Lester Papadopoulos’s wallet.

I stood up straight, hoping Cade and Mikey would be intimidated by my regal bearing and divine beauty. (Surely those qualities could not be taken from me, no matter what my driver’s license photo looked like.) I ignored the warm Dumpster juice trickling down my neck.

“I am Apollo,” I announced. “You mortals have three choices: offer me tribute, flee, or be destroyed.”

I wanted my words to echo through the alley, shake the towers of New York, and cause the skies to rain smoking ruin. None of that happened. On the word destroyed, my voice squeaked.

The redhead Cade grinned even wider. I thought how amusing it would be if I could make the snake tattoos around his neck come alive and strangle him to death.

“What do you think, Mikey?” he asked his friend. “Should we give this guy tribute?”

Mikey scowled. With his bristly blond hair, his cruel small eyes, and his thick frame, he reminded me of the monstrous sow that terrorized the village of Crommyon back in the good old days.

“Not feeling the tribute, Cade.” His voice sounded like he’d been eating lit cigarettes. “What were the other options?”

“Fleeing?” said Cade.

“Nah,” said Mikey.

“Being destroyed?”

Mikey snorted. “How about we destroy him instead?”

Cade flipped his knife and caught it by the handle. “I can live with that. After you.”

I slipped the wallet into my back pocket. I raised my fists. I did not like the idea of flattening mortals into flesh waffles, but I was sure I could do it. Even in my weakened state, I would be far stronger than any human.

“I warned you,” I said. “My powers are far beyond your comprehension.”

Mikey cracked his knuckles. “Uh-huh.”

He lumbered forward.

As soon as he was in range, I struck. I put all my wrath into that punch. It should have been enough to vaporize Mikey and leave a thug-shaped impression on the asphalt.

Instead he ducked, which I found quite annoying.

I stumbled forward. I have to say that when Prometheus fashioned you humans out of clay he did a shoddy job. Mortal legs are clumsy. I tried to compensate, drawing upon my boundless reserves of agility, but Mikey kicked me in the back. I fell on my divine face.

My nostrils inflated like air bags. My ears popped. The taste of copper filled my mouth. I rolled over, groaning, and found the two blurry thugs staring down at me.

“Mikey,” said Cade, “are you comprehending this guy’s power?”

“Nah,” said Mikey. “I’m not comprehending it.”

“Fools!” I croaked. “I will destroy you!”

“Yeah, sure.” Cade tossed away his knife. “But first I think we’ll stomp you.”

Cade raised his boot over my face, and the world went black.

A girl from nowhere

Completes my embarrassment

Stupid bananas

I HAD NOT BEEN STOMPED so badly since my guitar contest against Chuck Berry in 1957.

As Cade and Mikey kicked me, I curled into a ball, trying to protect my ribs and head. The pain was intolerable. I retched and shuddered. I blacked out and came to, my vision swimming with red splotches. When my attackers got tired of kicking me, they hit me over the head with a bag of garbage, which burst and covered me in coffee grounds and moldy fruit peels.

At last they stepped away, breathing heavily. Rough hands patted me down and took my wallet.