The Diffident Hero - NaNoWriMo 2012 - Chapter 3

Alas, Galadriel was nowhere to be seen. In fact, there continued to be nothing much of note to see, even though he was filled with the certainty that the meeting had, in fact, begun.

That certainty was borne of a presence in his mind that he recognized as the source of the call. It was centered on the sliver of dense light, which drew his eye like a magnet drawing iron. Though he couldn’t see it grow, it somehow grew in importance until it filled his field of view and he could see nothing else; a voice that had no voice spoke with him through his mind.

brave one, you are welcome here

“I’m welcome … in my dreams?” The voice-that-wasn’t-a-voice was flat and toneless and yet more expressive and full of meaning than any sound he’d heard produced. He wasn’t entirely sure how dream conversations were supposed to go, but he didn’t seem to be on autopilot anymore. He was going to have to actually carry his end of the conversation.

your dreams are a place of fantastic power and wonder, of imagination and imagery far beyond most of your kind

“Power … is this about what happened yesterday?”

you are a true hero to your kind, and to mine

“I’m no hero,” he said.

Another replay in his head began then, the scenes he’d seen earlier of the mother and father holding their child moments before the little girl was lost from the balcony. There was an otherworldliness to it he hadn’t seen before, not just the strangeness of the girl, but of her parents, too.

we live among you, unseen, unknown

The baby girl, staring into his eyes after he caught her, those too-knowing eyes that consumed him. There was a kinship there, something shared with the too-solid light.

you saved her where precious few others could

“I only did what anyone would have done,” he protested, before being cut off.

He felt a pulsing warmth inside his chest. It flowed into him from the light; a gift, he sensed; it felt both glorious and alien all at once.

cast off false images and be truly what you are

The warmth exploded in his chest, flooding through him, suffusing him with a feeling of power mixed with gratitude that nearly burned in its intensity, then faded, leaving him feeling warm and drained.

you are the hero of the people

“It was just instinct! I didn’t even see her! I’m glad I saved her, but I’m not worthy of all this,” he cried, but he was protesting in vain. He jerked upright in his bed, blinked his eyes, and pinched and poked himself around the arms and legs and head. He was himself, his regular old body with its reassuring lack of He-Man muscles. Only the diffuse, warm feeling remained from the dream. “Maybe I’m just hung over.”

He noticed light streaming in from under the shade on the window; he grabbed his phone. 7:13am. Just in time to get ready for work.

<> 

He put the dream out of his mind and spent the rest of that day trying to make things go back to normal. The rest of the world had other ideas.

When he arrived at work, he found his co-workers, most of whom had never interacted with him in any way before, had gotten him a large cake with a beautifully done icing rendering of him catching the baby girl across the top. He spluttered and stammered his protests to no effect; for the rest of the day, he was the man of the hour, and got almost no work done at all thanks to an endless parade of people he didn’t know shaking his hand, congratulating him, asking him for the hot reporter lady’s number and generally interrupting his schedule. To his great surprise, nobody minded that he didn’t actually accomplish anything.

The message counter continued to climb. It was making him anxious; he liked to keep a clean inbox and the count was up to 55 from voice mail alone when he got up. He knew he was going to have to deal with it eventually, he knew; he turned off the display again.

“Ben, great job yesterday, that catch was amazing! Did you play ball in college or something?” Yet another co-worker he’d seen around but never talked to. He smiled half-heartedly.

“Brandon, and thanks. No, never played.”

“Man, if only they’d known what they were missing out on!”

“Yeah. Um, I’ve got to—”

“Hey, no problem, Ben. We should get lunch some time, it’s on me!”

“That … sounds great, sure.”

He hurried off, whistling, and Brandon stared down at the lunch he’d hastily packed and brought with him. He looked around the office, and half a dozen people were trying to catch his eye. He cringed inwardly. “I’ve gotta get out of here,” he muttered.

Suiting action to words, he grabbed his coat and slipped out of the office as quickly as he could, drawing on all of his years of experience to blend into the environment and avoid notice. He counted it a success when he was only stopped twice.

He let his guard down as he strolled down the street; he was too relieved to be out of the sight of his coworkers, and forgot that he was now in the line of sight of the general public. It took a few minutes for this to dawn on him as people started stopping where they stood, whispering. A few started pointing.

One young woman timidly approached him, tugging on the sleeve of his coat as he passed. “Excuse me, sir, are you Brandon Burns?”

He stopped, flustered. She was a beauty, the type of girl he’d have been too nervous to approach, and here she was, looking ready to bolt if he said the wrong word. His response caught in his throat.

“Um … yes,” he said, rather lamely, and promptly gave himself a mental kick for his social clumsiness.

She advanced a step, a bit of the timidity melting away from her eyes. “I saw how you saved that baby yesterday, it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I’m so glad I get to tell you how great you were!”

He retreated a step, maintaining the distance between them, even while flushing slightly under the praise. “Er … thank you. It was really nothing though, I just did what anyone would have done. I just … reacted, you know?”

She took another step forward. “Not just anyone would have actually caught her though,” she smiled. “Would you—”

“I’m really sorry, I’m … I have to … I’ve got to be on my way.” He started backing away. “It was nice to meet you!”

He turned then and hurried on. He grabbed his phone from his pocket, determined not to be stopped again; he opened up his social networks and kept his eyes half-glued to the screen, head hunched low. Maybe nobody would recognize him.

He walked that way, head down, attention apparently absorbed, until he came to the little hole in the wall restaurant he’d decided was likely to be the least busy place he could get to for lunch and make it back on time. It was also the place he was least likely to be bothered, he hoped.

The place, a somewhat generic Mediterranean restaurant, was a little dim and grungy-looking, but those who looked closer would note that their kitchen was spotless. There were a few other customers in the place, but not many; the lunch rush hadn’t begun, and was rarely too bad at this location even when it did begin. He joined the short line as unobtrusively as possible.

The place was short-staffed, but the harried servers were efficient and kept the line moving. He’d just decided to go with the chicken shawarma when it was his turn to order. He collected his meal to eat in and slipped his phone into his pocket, then made his way to an empty table.

He made it halfway before another customer bumped him from behind. From the corner of his eye, he saw the other patron’s dish go flying into the air right next to him. A sense of deja vu came over him and a warm flash of energy ran down his arm. He snapped it out, snagging the edge of the plate and scooping it up before it separated from too much of the contents. A single olive bounced free and hit the floor while he stood still, a little stunned, and handed the plate back to its wide-eyed owner.

Did that just happen? That didn’t just happen, he thought. He surreptitiously rubbed his fingertips together; no spidery sticky hairs. He wasn’t turning into Tobey McGuire in Spider-Man, then. What the hell was that, then?

He looked around, but it seemed most people hadn’t noticed. The person who’d bumped him was staring at him, giving him a look he’d seen a number of times that day already, as though trying to place his face. With a start, his attention was drawn to a couple of people who’d been in the line behind him—he recognized them from work. Crap! One of them was staring at him, open-mouthed. He nudged the other person, a woman from the accounting department, and they started whispering together, casting furtive glances at him.

He hunched in on himself and slipped quietly into his seat and started eating. So much for a clean escape.

The story of the lunchtime catch spread around the office, which made the furtive glances and whispered conversations infinitely worse for the rest of the day, but at least people interrupted him far less frequently. He was actually able to get some work done. Unfortunately, being able to did not translate into actually doing it; he spent a good portion of the afternoon worrying about that odd warmth he’d felt right before catching the plate. It had felt an awful lot like the sensation he’d had during his dream.

He walked home quickly, lost in thought, and that actually had the effect of shielding him from the cloud of attention his appearance brought him. Passersby took note of his distracted air and speed and very few thought to interrupt him.

He made it home in record time, tossed his phone onto the counter without even setting it up to charge, and sat by his window, deep in thought, staring out at the street and the people moving about their lives.

Were some of them the others? The … he didn’t even know what they were. ‘The People,’ his dream had told him, living in the world unseen and unknown. But who, what were the people? He’d dismissed them as the figment of too much scotch before bed, but his sense of connection at the restaurant had been so strong.

‘You are the hero of the people,’ he’d been told. Told by a dream. Told by his imagination, told by a scotch bottle. Could they have done that to him? Could they have given him the ability to actually be what everyone already thought he was?

“It’d be just my luck if they’re real and they actually did,” he said to himself, hardly noticing that he was speaking the words out loud. “Another couple of days and people will have forgotten all about me, except …” he sighed. “Except for the inevitable memes, I guess.”

He stared at his hands. All this over a silly dream and a couple of flukes of dexterity. He’d always had fairly good reflexes, though he was rarely in a position to really put them to the test. That was likely all it was; he’d been in an unusual position to make use of a natural ability he’d had all along without knowing.

Hadn’t he?

He dug a handful of change out of his pocket and inspected them. 4 quarters, several assorted lesser coins. He re-pocketed the lesser ones and idly flipped one of the quarters, catching and re-catching it.

After he’d flipped it a few times, he flipped it extra hard, sending the coin sailing toward the ceiling by a couple of feet before it fell back down. He tensed his other arm and snatched for it. It was an easy catch, and there was no hint of the otherworldly warmth he remembered from before.

He snorted at himself. Seriously, he was getting cracked in the head.

He tossed all four quarters up toward the ceiling and watched as they started to fall. As they neared the level he’d thrown them from, his hand shot out …

2 quarters tumbled to the floor, one landing on edge and rolling briefly before settling. Two lay in his clenched fist. Still no trace of the warm feeling of power.

“Guess that settles that,” he said, relieved. It was all in his head. In a few days, people would forget all about his blessedly brief brush with fame.