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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Yes. I don’t want anyone to know who I am.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 63


He wakes at City Orphanage under three warm and womb-like blankets.

Jose Noe sits out-of-focus on Prial’s cot.  A coliseum of voyeurs extends over Jose’s shoulders.  The boys of the sleeping floor surround him with plain faces and judging expressions.   Jose flips a dried and crumbling notebook in one hand.  You followed the streets back to us, didn’t you?  All the way from, where…downtown?  East side?  I think your scratch stops at East 66th.  You went pretty far, didn’t you?  In your night out on the town.

Hektor doesn’t move.  Doesn’t speak.  He doesn’t even lift his head from his pillow.  He just stares at his notebook.

Smart to write it down.  Jose tosses the tattered notebook aside.  We were worried.  Where have you been?  (No answer.)  You look like you’ve been in a fight.  Or two fights.  We should dress that ear.  And you’re face is dirty.  (No answer.)  You snuck in here in the middle of a Saturday afternoon like nothing ever happened?  Come on… Why don’t you say something?  Speak!

Hektor coughs.  What time is it?

Just after dinner.  The boys got back from supper and found you sleeping.  They came and told me.

Hektor slides the blankets from his body.  He does it slowly, because it hurts.  Every part of him hurts.  But he doesn’t want to show it.  He sits up on his cot.  The 49 orphans of the sleeping floor ogle him as if he has disease.

I hope some of that blood is other guy’s, jokes Jose with a point to Hektor’s uniform.  From the knees down, his trousers are covered in Ted Appleton’s dried blood.  The fabric is stiff and brown.

I stepped in paint, he lies.

The boys laugh at him.

Says Hektor to Jose in a tone that is like daggers: Tell them to go away.

Jose huffs and, for a second, looks like he’s going to laugh.  Hektor’s intensity doesn’t fade.  Jose shifts his eyes.  The boy’s not joking.  Over the heads of the orphan boys, Jose gives a signal.

Lorenzo is propped against the far wall and chews on a toothpick.  Lazily, he peels away.  Let’s go, bambinos, orders the big man to the orphans.  Time for Recreation Hall.  Hustle.  In less than a minute, Lorenzo has everyone through the doors.

Hektor listens as the footsteps on the staircase soften to vanishing.  When the boy again speaks, it’s in the same practiced, piercing conviction as before.

You never tried to find me, he says.

Jose shrugs.  I called the police.  I told them you were gone.  I reported a missing child the way the rules say.  You shouldn’t run away, Hektor.  I told you that I would be pissed.

You didn’t come to find me.

No, Hektor, I didn’t.

I was in trouble.

Jose’s faces down to his white shoes.  Jesus Christ, Hektor.  What, you’re going to be mad at me now?  I snap at you and you run away.  You break the rules.  And you’re mad at me?  You asked for that kind of trouble.  I’ve been offering you nothing but friendship and good homes.  But you run away and break the rules.  It’s not smart, Hektor.  Actually, it’s really stupid.  You’ve got people coming to meet you, you know?  And now they’re gonna look at your records and see that you wanted to run away and Jesus, Hektor— Jose’s lecture trickle away.  What do you want from me?  Look.  I work here, Hektor.  Comprenda?  I fucking work here.  I’m an em-ploy-ee.  I’m not your goddamn dad.

Hektor can feel the burn in his eyes, but he won’t cry.  He keeps Jose locked in his sights.

I’m sorry, Hektor, but that’s the truth.  I’ve worked her for eight years.  Eight years.  You’ve been here most of that, sure, but I…I’m not a dad, Hektor.  I’m not a dad.  I like you.  I do.  But I’m not a dad.  I follow orders and you can’t just run away.

Hektor finally lifts his eyes off the supervisor and to the ceiling of the sleeping floor.

Come on.  Jose puts out a hand.  I want you to go to the nurse.  Make sure there is no permanent damage.

Jose’s hand hangs unanswered.

I’m all right.

Jose snaps,    Come on!

Hektor looks the other way.


The boy slowly, mechanically, moves again to meet Jose’s stern face.  When he speaks, it is with quiet, absolute certainly.

I’m not waiting until someone comes.  I’ve been waiting for that for too long.  I’m ready.  I want to leave.  I want you to get me an interview with someone tonight.  I want to go home.

Today?  Jose’s face is strained, as if he didn’t quite hear.

There has to be a mom or dad in the files.  I want to meet them tonight.  You can arrange that.  Do it.  And I want a good one.  Like the ones you gave Fleck.

I— Jose drops his hand.  He is stunned.  Hektor.  It’s Saturday night.

I want to leave here.  I want a family.

Hektor, I don’t think it can happen that fas— You’re punishing me, aren’t you?  You’re doing this to make me feel guilty.  Jose jabs a finger into Hektor’s sore chest.  Well, I’m not jumping through hoops for you, so you can just forget it.  Jose rises, paces away from the cot, and waves his arms in frustration.  You know, that’s the problem.  You’ve never been disciplined in your life, have you?  You don’t know what’s right and wrong!  I thought you were a smart kid, a good kid, sure.  But now you run away and you talk back and— Fuck you, I’m done with the obligations, Hektor!  I’m done, you little shit!

Katherine Ximon stands 10 meters behind Jose, clad in severe black dress and jacket, framed in the doorway of the sleeping floor.

Jose spins.  Ms. Ximon, he nods embarrassed, I di-didn’t think you were— I’m sorry.  My condolences.

Thank you, Jose.  Ms. Ximon cocks her head to the boy.   Hello, Hektor.

The boy sits upright.  The adult and the child pass a look.  Hello, Ms. Ximon.

I’ve had a long talk with my daughter, Hektor, says Ms. Ximon in the distance, ignoring Jose altogether.   You and I should have a conversation.

Jose toggles between Hektor and his boss.  He’s confused.

Ms. Ximon extends her hand.  In her face, there is a secret.  She is part pleased, but a more prevalent part rides a wave of sadness.  It manifests on her face, in her eyes, and in her aura.  Come to me, Hektor.  I’ve got something special for you.

Hektor steadily rises, every centimeter telegraphing pain in his muscles that he struggles to hide.  On his bare feet, he passes Jose with deference.  Hektor doesn’t even look at the supervisor.  At the door, he extends his arm and takes Katherine Ximon’s offered hand.

She leads the boy towards the staircase.  As they walk, Katherine Ximon tilts to Jose, who tows behind.  Jose, I want you to go downstairs to my office, she remarks casually.  The Rushes are here to collect Fleck.  Make sure they have everything they need, as well anything Fleck needs to take with him.  They were very worried when he ran away.  Please tell Fleck that Mayor Cocanaugher has contacted City 14.  They will help find Fleck’s father…if he’s to be found.  Until that time, the Rushes will enjoy Fleck’s company and keep him safe.  I will call them on Tuesday and make sure everything is okay.  ¿Entendido?

Si, Ms. Ximon.

Jose slows when Ms. Ximon and the boy they begin their ascent.  Jose stalls on the stairs as Hektor glances back at him.  The faint glimmer of an apology rests in Jose’s face, but the boy ignores it.

Be good to Fleck, Jose, Ms. Ximon calls down to the supervisor as she and Hektor round the top corner.  Today is a very special day for that one…he deserves a nice send off…

Hektor feels Katherine tighten on his hand.  She smiles at him.  Hektor hears Jose’s boots dissipating down the stairs.  With each stair step, his leg hurts from the bite of the Doberman, but it feels better than it had when he crossed the city.  He’s either gotten used to the pain, or Nary Ximon’s physician skills are none too bad.

As they rise, the boy says nothing, asks nothing, but that does not mean he does not have questions.  Did Nary tell her mother my name?  Is she upset?  She’s not crying, but her face is swollen.  Will Fleck be all right?  Can he see him before he goes?  Does Fleck know I’ve come back?  And, most immediately, What floor are we on?  He has climbed past every known level of the orphanage and still Ms. Ximon has not entered a door.

They reach the top of the staircase and it tapers into a narrow enclosure with an exit door.  There’s a padlock on the bar, but it’s already open and hangs free on the bar’s end.  This place smells of warm bread and there is very little light.

She whispers.

I suppose I should have cleaned you up first.  You’re quite a mess.

Yeah, he says, padding his shirt.

That’s okay.  We understand.

Ms. Ximon gently pushes the door with the palm of her right hand.  The door parts into the orange glow of the rooftop.  Married with the practical stovepipes and conditioning units, a platform has been erected.  Five rows of bleachers are stacked and supported by crisscrossed steel.

In the center of the platform sits a very thin man.  He wears a black suit, with crisp white shirt and black bow tie.  Dark-rimmed glasses cover his face, and he tips them to better see the new arrivals.  Nestled under an arm is a mid-sized cardboard box.  His fingers drape over the box’s edges.

Ms. Ximon urges Hektor forward with a gentle press of her hand.  The man stands.

The boy treads into the settling light.  The sun has dropped beneath the westerly buildings, but the colors remain strong and warm.  Hektor straightens his back, dusts his filthy uniform, and travels into the Doll-generated November air.

See this platform, Hektor?  This is a Sunrise Platform, she explains.  I bet you didn’t know we had one.

Hektor shakes his head.

It’s not spectacular right now, at dusk.  Ms. Ximon points east.  But in the morning, not a single building blocks the sky.  I closed this platform in early ’91.  In another part of the city, a platform collapsed and I didn’t want any children getting hurt.  But, as far as the engineers can tell me, our sunrise platform is perfectly safe.

Hektor and Ms. Ximon reach the first level of the platform.  The man with the box smiles, listens, says nothing.

Ms. Ximon gestures in introduction.  I want you to meet my friend.  I think you’ll have a lot in common.  His name is Mr. Schuller.  We actually first met a long time ago, and then again today.

The man finally speaks.  Hello, Hektor, he says in a low but pleasant voice, I’m pleased to meet you.  The eyeglasses he wears make him look nebbish.  His black suit accents his slim body.  He’s clean-shaven, older (but not too old.)  Hektor wants to keep looking at him long after looking away.

Ms. Ximon lowers her chin.  Mr. Schuller’s son was Vaughn Schuller.  Do you know that name, Hektor?

Yes, says the boy.  He was one of the six.

She nods.

Mr. Schuller was at Matty’s funeral today.  He was very sad…until I told him about you.

Hektor is puzzled.

Nary told me about what you did, Hektor.  She told me everything.  And she told me that you wanted it to be a secret.  But you must know that a daughter should never keep secrets from her mother.  Especially when I can help.  So I did tell Mr. Schuller, too.  Because I wanted him to know what a special boy you are.  Don’t worry.  We won’t tell anyone else.  Ms. Ximon kisses Hektor on the top of his head, and she begins to cry.       You saved my little girl.  You saved Nary.  Thank you, Hektor.  Oh, my God, thank you.  She kisses him one more time then covers her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket.

I’m sorry I couldn’t save Matty, too, he says back to her.  I’m sorry.  Hektor turns to Mr. Schuller.  Or your son.  I’m sorry.

Mr. Schuller covers his mouth and removes his glasses.

It’s okay, Hektor, you saved Nary.  Without you, I would have lost them both.  Something would have gone wrong and they would have drowned those children in the pool.  They would have done that.  I know it.  Except there was you.  You.  It’s a terrible day, but also a glorious day, isn’t it?  Nary escapes and then has to go to Matty’s funeral.  I have one daughter alive but not both.  I’ve never felt so strange in my entire life.  I’m both happy and devastated.  I don’t know which way is up.  But I know that you, my boy, have done something extraordinary.

Hektor touches her arm.

She composes herself.  It’s only a matter of time, she says, before the police and the Media learn all the facts about what happened in the Doll Building.  They will try to find you, Hektor.  And they’ll come here.  I’ve already had three messages.  And I believe what Nary told me is true – that you don’t want anyone to know your name.  Is that right?

Hektor considers his answer then says, Yes.  I don’t want anyone to know who I am.

So if you really want to stay anonymous, you should consider what we’re offering.

The boy lets his eyes fall on Mr. Schuller.

Here, Hektor, says Mr. Schuller as he bends at the waist and heaves the cardboard box onto the bench.  Want to see what I have here?

Hektor stays put.

Go on, urges Mrs. Ximon in his ear.

Hektor slowly climbs the platform until he is near to Mr. Schuller.  The man sports pleasant cologne that is clean and fresh, opposite of the boy’s condition.  Mr. Schuller opens the flaps of the cardboard box and gestures inside, and from it wafts the smell of old newspapers.  The man nods.  Take a look.

Hektor slants.

Inside the cardboard box rests two comic books.

One has Batman on the cover.

The other has a rendering of a man in a red cape, blue shirt, red boots, with an ‘S’ emblazoned on his chest.

You can touch them, encourages Mr. Schuller.

Hektor reaches into the box.  He takes out the Batman comic.  Underneath that edition lies yet another comic book.  He lifts the second comic, too.  Under that, there is another and another.  A whole stack of Batman comics, each wrapped in a clear protective sheath.  Hektor respectfully sets the stack back into the box and focuses again on the one in his hand.

Here, says Mr. Schuller, getting down to business.  He gently takes the comic from Hektor’s hand, pops the taped seal on the plastic with a run of his fingernail, and quickly returns it to the boy.  There ya go.  Enjoy.

Hektor fans the pages and glances up again at Mr. Schuller.

That whole stack is Batman, the man says with pride.  The others are all Superman.  Do you like Superman, too?  Or is it just Batman?

I’ve never read Superman, admits Hektor with a drifting voice.  He is gripping the Batman pages too tightly, but he can’t seem to make himself stop.

Well, says Mr. Schuller with a wide appraisal, I shall have to introduce you.  Superman is very special.

Hektor zooms in on the Batman cover.  The date in the corner is January 2051.  Hektor inspects the box.  Where did you get all these?

My shop, Mr. Schuller says.

Mr. Schuller owns a comic shop in the city, Ms. Ximon adds.  It’s very popular.

Plus, I’m a collector, he explains.  I own thousands, he explains.  These are from the store, but, sorry to say, my whole apartment is wall-to-wall.  Probably the reason I never got re-married.  No woman could stand it.

Hektor shuts the comic book.  He traces the edge lovingly with his fingers then hands it back to Mr. Schuller.  Thanks for showing it to me.

Mr. Schuller stops Hektor with a gesture.  Nope.  Yours.  The whole box, as a matter of fact.  Whole thing’s yours, my friend.

Hektor turns to Ms. Ximon.  He can’t believe it.

She raps on the lower platform with her knuckles and nods, satisfied.  In her face are the beginnings of tears that she clearly wants to hide.  You men enjoy the sunset, she says pleasantly as she twirls away from them.  It won’t last long.  Honestly, sunrises are better.  I’m thinking I should open this platform back up again.  The kids might like it.  Why don’t I go and make certain Fleck is on his way and knows that he will be missed.  Hektor…did you want to see Fleck before he goes?

Hektor nods, happy.  Yeah.

I’ll fetch him and his new family, too.  They can enjoy the sunset with you…or what’s left of it.  In the meantime, I’ll let you both talk about Batman.  I won’t be long.

Before anything more can be said, Katherine Ximon has left the rooftop.

Mr. Schuller takes a seat away from the cardboard box.  He falls back onto his elbows and looks out into the orange dusk.

Hektor picks another comic from the box.  A Superman comic.  To him, the blue suit and giant ‘S’ seem a bit much, especially when used to the dark tones and animal cape of Batman.  But there is something in the zooming pose of this new character that he finds alluring.

Can he fly? he asks.

Yep.  Fast as hell.  Faster than a bullet.

Hektor takes a seat on the platform beside Mr. Schuller.  Lost in excitement, wanting to drink down every moment of what it’s like to hold such a find in his hands, he tries to memorize the two covers – Batman, Superman.

Mr. Schuller begins softly.  Ms. Ximon’s right, you know, Hektor…they’ll come and find you for what you’ve done.  And that may not be a bad thing.  What you’ve done…well, it’s the best thing anyone could have ever done.  Maybe the best thing ever done in this whole city.  Do you really not want anyone to know?

Hektor can’t take his eyes from the covers, but he answers.  I don’t want anyone to know.

Then what you need, says the man, is a secret identity.  You know what that is, right?

Hektor smiles.

Good.  Mr. Schuller pauses, thinks.  I miss my son very much.

Hektor raises his eyes.

His funeral was Thursday.  I miss him so much.  I think I’m gonna miss him the rest of my life.  He was 10.  His birthday is in two weeks.

I’m 11.

I know.

Mr. Schuller rubs Hektor’s hair, but withdraws awkwardly.  But Hektor still likes this man.  And not just because of comic books.  He likes him.  He likes the way he leans against the platform.  He likes that Ms. Ximon likes him, and that Nary told him what he has done.  He likes that he loves and misses his son.  He likes that the man just told him his feelings about his son out loud.  This man’s not full of obligations like Jose, but he behaves like a father.  And he likes that Mr. Schuller doesn’t press him to talk about what has happened.  Batman wouldn’t talk about doing Good; he would just do it.  That is something Hektor admires and, in a quiet way, the man understands that, too.

Why don’t you take Vaughn’s room…for a time?  Katherine can arrange for you to leave tonight.

This barely makes it past Mr. Schuller’s lips.  He’s fumbling with what is proper.

It can just be temporary if you’d like.  Then you can come back here.  But that will get you away from any police or Media who come calling.  I’ll show you my comic collection.  It really is ridiculously big.

Hektor doesn’t answer.  He places Superman and Batman back into the cardboard box.

It’s okay, you don’t have to come with me, brushes Mr. Schuller, I understand.  In his voice, there is no martyrdom or hurt, only truth.  That would be weird, wouldn’t it?  My son has been killed and, and, I invite you, and… It’s weird, right?  But I just know that—

I want a new name, the boy says suddenly.

Mr. Schuller wrinkles his nose.  New name?

I want a secret identity.

Isn’t Hektor the name your parents gave you?  Don’t you want to keep it?

It can be my middle name.  I’ll always have it.  But I want to be someone else.  I want to be somewhere else.

Mr. Schuller shrugs.  Sure, okay.  Secret identity it is.  You got a name in mind?

Hektor thinks.  He thinks for a full minute.  The sun is nearly out.  Fleck and his new parents will be here soon.  At last, he squares his body to Mr. Schuller’s and says: Bruce.


Yes.  Bruce.

Again, Mr. Schuller touches the boy’s shoulder.  That’s good.  Then he reaches out and with a stiff arm touches each of the boy’s shoulders ceremoniously.  From this day forth you shall be called Bruce!  Do you think Ms. Ximon can tweak the papers?  I’m sure tomorrow there will be wall-to-wall Media, Post It Men, police, a whole city outside these gates looking for a hero named Hektor.  But Katherine cleans the paper trail…no one will be looking for a Bruce, right?  We’ll have to slip her a hundred bucks, though.  You know how this city works, he jokes.  You got a hundred on ya, Bruce?

Hektor laughs into his chest.

Yeah, kid.  I think that name sounds perfect.

They both turn with the sound of footsteps from the stairwell.  It is their last moment alone on the sunrise platform.  Both the man and the boy look out into the thin orange line that remains before the coming night.

Yeah, echoes Hektor.  Perfect.


|| About the Author ||

Darren Callahan resides in City 19, where the weather is just fine.  He is married and has two intact children.