The Hero, by Tony Wayne Brown
Hermie Hadley dreams nightly that a man on the bus to Greenville saves an old black lady’s life by grabbing the pistol of a gunman and forcing an errant shot. The seventh night, Hermie’s dream transitions to the hero being himself, like he’d always wanted ever since he’d donned a black cape and called himself, “The Knight Light” as a child. Every evening he’d prowl his neighborhood with a flashlight, searching for evildoers that — unfortunately for him — never appeared.
After awakening, Hermie asks himself, “Why can’t I be the hero?”
He decides to get on the bus himself so he can help save the old lady and share the limelight. After boarding the Greyhound, he spots a black man about twenty years old sitting on the second row who is the hero that he’s seen in his dreams. The well-built young man, likely a football player, must have won one “for the Gipper,” Hermie thinks because of the way many of the passengers are treating him with such deference.
Wanting to be close at hand when the time comes for action, Hermie frowns when he sees no vacant seats near the man. He considers asking someone if he can have their seat, but recognizes that they’re all flashing signs and sporting red bandannas and are much more likely to knock his block off and stomp his guts out, so he sits five rows back. Instead of being upset by this turn of fortune, he smiles. After he saves the old lady, punks like that will flee like roaches from a can of Raid just at the sight of him approaching.
Hermie dreams of being a hero by grabbing the gun—first appearing on local news shows and in newspapers—then being on nationwide talk shows. He sees himself getting his own show like John Walsh and relishes a future on prime-time television, rewarding people who have foiled robberies and highlighting his continuing heroic deeds. Maybe they’ll even fire Walsh and let him take over America’s Most Wanted because he is The Hero, after all! He envisions a mansion he’ll live in, and the fast Maserati he’ll be driving on his way to his latest rescue.
Everyone will know Herman Hadley. That’s what they’ll call him soon, Herman, not “Hermie,” as in “Hermie, squirmy…scared of a little wormy,” like his grade school classmates used to taunt him because he was deathly afraid of the tiny slithering creatures. He’ll rub shoulders with celebrities and everyone will call him, “Mister Herman.” He sees his whole future as a beloved crime fighter like Superman and the recreation of the incidents, with his heroic image constantly featured on TV.
His heart pumps fast at the future his mind has mapped out, and he barely constrains himself until the moment of his heroism arrives. Hermie eyes the passengers as they climb aboard, waiting for the one who is to be saved. He sees no old lady at all, though, and wonders if possibly one of the others is the one to be saved. Passenger after passenger get on and off without being the lady in his dream. Thoughts of glory still continue to roll through his mind as he waits for his chance.
Hermie imagines the recreation of his soon-to-be first rescue and the many to follow on his own TV show, with himself being the producer and director, of course. The money rolls in and it’s all because of his unselfish good deed, performed purely out of the goodness of his heart. Hermie laughs as he thinks how gullible people can be when you play your cards just right.
As people continue to get on without the old lady appearing, Hermie’s thoughts of glory start turning into bitter ones of how his mundane life will continue, no one recognizing that he is even there, if that damn old lady doesn’t get on this stupid bus! He sinks down, knowing that his life will remain useless and he will always be an utter nothing, a nobody, doing things that no one notices.
Finally, at the next-to-the-last stop, an old gray-haired black woman is sitting at the bus stop. Hermie is joyous at finally seeing the woman. His life will change dramatically in just a few moments and he rubs his hands together, savoring the role of hero that he is about to embark on. The old lady is having difficulty getting up, however, and he is horrified, thinking that his life-altering feat won’t occur. He rushes off the bus and assists the woman to her feet.
“Thank you…thank you, young man,” the lady says, even though Hermie is fifty-eight years old and appears to be ten years older than that due to his balding head and facial creases. He is shivering in anticipation of his heroism, shivering at the thought of the adulation he’ll soon be receiving, shivering at the idea of all the wealth that he’ll accrue. He’ll buy his mother a house, and his children will go to Harvard, that is, the children he’ll have with one of the beautiful women who will fawn over him after the deed is done. Hermie practically carries the old woman on board the bus, holding her cane as he propels her forward, anxious to get about the business of lifesaving.
The bus driver claps and smiles for him like a precursor of what’s to come, and his mind portrays the applause he’ll get at the award ceremony for saving the old lady’s life. The NAACP will honor him, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton will be applauding, maybe even President Obama. It is all too good to be true, and yet he knows that it will soon be true.
To his delight, the gangbangers have all gotten off while he was helping the old lady, so after getting her to the seat nearest the driver, he sits down just behind her, across the aisle from the other soon-to-be hero. His lips draw in as someone pats that man on the back and says, “I still can’t believe you stopped that running back from crossing the goal line with no time left on the clock!”
“What a play!” another person says as the football star shrugs like it’s no big deal.
Hermie’s head draws back at the way the man sloughs off the compliments. Obviously this is so common for him that being a hero has no significance! Resentment appears in the form of Hermie’s reddened face at the idea of having to share the spotlight with a handsome young man reeking with personality, one who does not need new laurels in order to be popular.
With the final stop approaching, Hermie knows the time is near. Since everything in his dreams goes off without a hitch for the “original” hero, he has no fear at all when he realizes that the middle-aged man sitting on the first seat across the aisle from the old lady is the gunman of his dreams. The man pulls out a pistol and fires a shot into the ceiling, nonsensically screaming vulgarities complaining that the driver was not delivering his load of asphalt to the proper location.
Hermie decides that he’s to be the only hero on this bus and shoves the football player out of the way when he starts to intervene. Grabbing the pistol as the gunman lowers it toward the old lady, Hermie twists it like the football player had in his dreams. Instead of it going off harmlessly, the shot hits the old lady when it goes off and she slumps over.
Hermie’s hand is stuck inside the trigger guard with the gunman’s finger and the pistol keeps firing, each round hitting other passengers. Finally, he wrestles the gun away, but accidentally pulls the trigger once more. The final shot hits the driver and the bus careens into a fence.
Even now, Hermie revels in his feat, thinking that the people being shot would make him even more of a hero and make it that much more impactful. After all, how many would have died had the gunman been taking aim? As soon as he gains possession of the gun, however, the crazed man pulls out a large Bowie knife and sinks it into Hermie’s gut, leaving him gasping for air as he envisions the role of hero that he might never enjoy. A news promo flashes in his mind as life threatens to ebb away. “A man who saves a bus full of passengers is nearly stabbed to death.”
The paramedics will be there any second to save him, he knows. His previous dreams of glory had been a mere pittance compared to what is to occur. He will be even more famous, having been at death’s door. The doctors and nurses will carefully tend to his every need. He’ll be interviewed by famous people. Maybe even Dan Rather will be called out of retirement to chat with him! Bill O’Reilly will nominate him for “Person of the Week.” He’ll get thousands of cards and letters while he is convalescing, tweets by the tens of thousands! Envelopes stuffed with cash and notes about his courage will arrive every day in the mail. He’ll be even a bigger star when he downplays his injuries.
How marvelous this has all worked out! He’d never imagined pain like this, but it will all be well worth it in the end. The sea of red flowing from his wound doesn’t matter; the pain doesn’t matter at all. It will only add to the dramatic effect and increase the adulation he’ll receive.
How appropriate, he thinks, as he hears the sound of a marching band practicing at a football field nearby. The band starts playing a Sousa march…duh duh di di duh, di di duh. Di di duh, di di duh, di di duh, duh!
An approaching train becomes louder and louder, drowning out the band, and another TV news promo comes on in Hermie’s mind: “A man attempting to save a bus full of passengers from a gunman is seriously injured today and six others killed. Only heroic efforts of another passenger kept the toll from being higher.”
He realizes that the football player who was the hero in his dreams is performing CPR on him and is about to become the hero after all because he feels air coming into his lungs. Hermie thinks of how his mother could use all the money people would donate to her in honor of his unselfish act, and how the appearance of another hero will jeopardize that.
“Keep your eyes open and stay with me, guy!” the man yells at him, but Hermie—refusing to share the glory, refusing to deny his poor mother a comfortable retirement—closes his eyes as the band music becomes audible again. Duh, duh, di di duh, di di duh, the band’s rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever goes on. Along with the tune honoring America’s heritage, he softly sings, “Be kind to your web-footed friends, for a duck may be somebody’s mo-ther” as visions of heroism play in Hermie Hadley’s dreams for the very last time.
USAF veteran Tony Wayne Brown’s work has appeared in over forty publications, including The Huffington Post, Birmingham Arts Journal, and Bartleby Snopes. His nefarious plan is total domination of the literary world by creating subliminal messages in his stories that compel readers to love every word he writes.
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Tags: death, dysfunctional, tony wayne brown