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FLASH FICTION: “HERO”

I’m currently hard at work on a major editing and writing project for a client, but the brain monkeys insist that their hard-typed submissions be allowed up the dumbwaiter from Sub-Basement A. Consequently, this piece of flash fiction is now available for your, er, enjoyment.

HERO

He’s sitting alone at the end of the bar, nursing a beer. His trademark cap and coveralls do little to conceal the fact that both his hair and body are thinning, growing lean and grey in the twilight of his years. He raises his head when I settle onto the stool next to him, one shaggy eyebrow raised. “You from the Gazette?” he murmurs, the ghost of an accent dancing across his vowels. I nod and take out my recorder, brushing aside a stray peanut so I can set the stunted mic stand on the pitted wood. “This okay?”

His nod is almost imperceptible. He takes a long, slow drink of beer and drags a hand across his lip. I note with surprise that he’s clean-shaven; he notices me looking and his mouth quirks. “I shaved off the damned mustache. I grew it for a lark, back when I was just a kid. Then it became, well, you know. Part of the *mythos,* I guess.” He frowns and signals for another beer. “I got sick of straining soup.” His eyes are a stormy blue, and they hold mine for a moment, questing. When I say nothing, he drops his gaze. Shrinks into himself a little more. I switch on the recorder, making him jump.

His hands are shaking.

“I shouldn’t be talking to you. Even now, years later, there are people who’d kill you just for reading the files I sent you.” His beer arrives, and he takes a long swallow, pushing the cap back. His forehead is lined and slick with sweat. He pulls a red handkerchief from the back pocket of his immaculate coveralls and mops at his brow. “But people should know. They should. Because if I’m a hero at all, it’s because I put a stop to the whole works before it could really get going.”

I start to ask him about the files he sent me—schematics for war machines, genetic engineering, dream manipulation—and he holds up a white-gloved hand. “It’s all true. I’ll swear to that, right here and now. The queen and her cabinet will deny it, and probably even give you all sorts of fancy evidence that I’m a crazy person. But I was there. I cleaned up their mess; “For Queen and Country, dear boy. Queen and Country.” I was even in love with her a little, back then. Of course, she was just a princess, then. And I was just a dope working in the shadows.” He blinks rapidly, and I look away.

His voice steadies. “I’m not even a fucking plumber, you know? I just fixed leaks. It was a code name, that’s all. The story came later. Along with…all the rest.” He sits back, tilting his cap forward and resting his hands on his thighs. His silhouette is achingly familiar in the sepulchral light of the bar, a dour twin to the statues and murals that still dot the main thoroughfares of the Capital City.

“They shouldn’t have killed my brother,” he says, turning to me once more. His eyes are gaslight in the shadows of his cap. “They should’ve just left it alone. But then again, so should’ve he.” He blinks, returning to his beer. “So ask your questions. I don’t—”

We’re interrupted by a gaggle of teenagers in rounded caps, jostling and shoving one another as they wander toward the arcade machines leaning haphazardly against the rear wall of the bar. One of them stops, staring. “Hey!” he cries, pumping one fist in the air and pretending to jump. “It’s-a you!” His friends make assorted bleeps and bonks, sketching out the strains of the national anthem in their broken adolescent voices.

The hero’s laugh is macabre; the scrape of broken brick on a bent pipe. He takes another drink and looks at the boys in the shimmering bar mirror. They fall silent, squirming.

“Yeah,” he says, eyes shifting to his cup. “It’s-a me.”

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