Heroes in Dark

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“There are no heroes,” he said, “because they are all dead.”

Morning light soothed the pain of his words.  A wink from the waitress tried to give comfort.  Voices and laughter mingled, rising louder, but the distraction failed.  Even the smile from the silent, brooding man seated opposite him could not wash away the bitterness that those words left behind, and his gaze returned to the older man, who shoveled a forkful of scrambled eggs into his mouth.  And the child crumbled up the comic book in his hands.

“Give the kid a break, Steve.”  His silence was broken.  “Let him dream.”

“Did you dream, T?”  The older man continued eating his breakfast.  “He’s going to be thirteen-years-old.  Time to grow up.”

“There are heroes,” he whispered.

“Stupid boy.  I should tell my daughter to stop giving you those damn things.”  He reached for the comic book, but the boy held it tighter in his hands.  “Give it!”

“No.”  He pressed the comic book against his chest.  “No!”

“Leave him be.”  The brooding man put a hand on the older man’s arm.

“Get your hand off my arm.”  His eyes held more menace than his voice.  “He’s my grandson.  I will decide what is best for him.”  He pushed the half-empty plate in front of him away.  “Be grateful that I invited you out to breakfast with us.”  He wiped his mouth like the boy’s mother trying desperately to remove stains off the kitchen floor.  “Now, move your ass.  I have to use the head.”  The younger man did as he was told, but his gaze met the boy’s eyes.  “Don’t talk to him while I’m gone.”  The older man stormed away.

“Damn.”  The brooding man dropped back into his seat.  He realized that the boy was still staring at him.  “What?”

“You just remind me of the Thing in the Fantastic Four.”  The comment should have made him laugh.  Instead, the man gingerly touched a long, jagged scar beneath his left eye.

“You think I’m tough?”  The kid nodded.  “Be grateful that you will never have to walk in my shoes.”  The boy stared at his untouched eggs.  “So, what’s with the comic?”  He gestured toward the crumbled mess that the boy still clung to.  “Why is that so important to you?”

“Because we need heroes.”

“Heroes?  Heroes get shot.  They jump from the frying pan and into the fire, getting burned alive.  Your grandfather’s right.  There are no heroes.”  He took a gulp of coffee.  “They’re all dead.”

“I don’t believe you,” he whispered.  “They’re just afraid.”

“Afraid?  What are heroes so afraid of?”

“The world.”

The waitress came and grabbed up the empty plates.  Her attention turned toward the boy, who still barely touched his food.  She stepped aside for a moment, but then she returned to refill the man’s coffee.  Her mouth hung open as if she wanted to say something, but her words didn’t seem right not with the tension brewing.  Instead, she turned and slowly walked away.

“Can I see your comic?”

“Are you going to give it to him?”

“No.”  The younger man held out his hand.  “Please.”  The boy gently placed the rolled up comic against his palm.  “Thank you.”

As he slowly flipped through the illustrative pages, the boy began to eat.  He first chewed slowly, watching the man’s every move.  When he was satisfied that the comic book would not be destroyed, he began to eat more eagerly, and as he did, the man seated before him continued to explore why such an object held such importance to the child.  And he stopped at a graphic scene of a gang beating up a boy roughly about the same age as the one before him.  “Doesn’t this bother you?”  He held the picture up to him.  “These punks are going to kill him, and he’s crying out to be saved.  But nobody is going to save him.”

“Keep reading,” was his answer.

The hero arrived too late.  He found the boy’s body broken, and he held him tightly in his arms.  With super speed, he arrived at the E.R. and placed the boy upon a waiting stretcher.  A tear coursed down his face, and his hands curled, remembering the faint pulse.

And the doctor asked him, “What was he doing there to begin with?  Why would the kid risk his life?”

The hero responded, “He needed to believe.  He needed to believe that he could save the world.”

“I don’t understand.”  The man handed back the comic book.  “The kid died, trying to save the world?”

“No.  He didn’t die.  He went into a coma.”

“So, what was the point?”

“The point?  The point was that he was trying to fight, trying to take back these streets that we are so afraid of walking.”  The kid now gave him a hard stare.  “He was trying to do what you and my grandfather do every day.  He was trying to make a difference.  His sacrifice made the hero in this comic book become the hero that he is.”  The boy held the comic book gently in his hands.  “I need to believe.  I need to believe that I can make a difference.”

“Give me that.”  His grandfather ripped the comic book out of his hands.  “We have to roll,” he said to the man next to him.  “I’ll drop you home.”

“Fine.”  The boy slid out of his booth.  “Whatever you say.”

“Hey!  I’m just watching out for you.”

“Are you?”  The boy spun around, confronting him.  “When are you going to stop being afraid?”  He stormed away.

“Watch your tone.”  He slammed the comic book down onto the table and grabbed his wallet out of his jacket pocket.  “It’s just a stupid comic book,” he muttered.

Metal struck porcelain.  Golden rays of light bit into darkness.  Hope glistened across passing gazes.  Fingers knelt down and carefully wrapped around the badge, slowly lifting it up into the air.  It carried the weight of the world, but its cry fell on deaf ears.  The older man knew he was losing the war.

“Let’s go, partner.”  The other man now stood behind him, but he didn’t follow him over to the counter.  Instead, he grabbed the comic book off the table and flipped to the last page.

The hero was standing on the rooftop of the hospital.  The city was burning, screaming to be saved, but he was only one man.  He needed help, but things had to be bad for him to ask for help.  But the boy heard him, and he tried to make a difference.  He tried and almost lost his life, but the world needed to know that.  The world needed to know that if one so young could rise to the fight, then they should follow, fueled by his bravery and determination to see that the war was not lost.  It was time to stop being afraid.  It was time to rise and become what the world needed, a hero.

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