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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

"I can do nothing. I am nobody and I can do nothing."

City of Human Remains – Chapter 47


The sun disappears at 7.  Hektor watches the moon in the clouds above the lowest buildings of the city’s skyline.  Hektor considers how rarely he sees the moon from the windows of the orphanage’s sleeping floor.  Stars cannot compete against lights of the city, but the moon’s arc over the horizon makes him feel warmer, even as the temperature drops.  He remembers Fleck’s thin jacket and wonders how many kilometers away lies City 14.  Hektor can point to the location on a map, but he has no real sense of distance.  His navigable space has been limited for so many years he’s lost the ability to calculate real things.

On this first night of November, the city is a giant whale, swallowing Hektor, Jonah-style.  Wandering the crowded streets, he believes he is invisible.  Passers-by pay no mind to this young boy alone at night, aimless.  If they were to speak to him, it might be to deride him at how poorly prepared he is for this adventure.  Two candy bars and zero leads to the missing children.  He’s already starving; his belly tightens.  But he decides to wait and not eat yet.

No, not yet.

He draws his brown coat around his body.  His city-issued shirt, trousers, and wool socks do little to stave off the chill.  With pockets full of underpants, candy bars, Batman, and his toothbrush, Hektor travels north to south.  The traffic on the tiered roads is louder than he would have imagined.  Glides are quiet, but you get enough of them together, he supposes, noise happens.  The sounds of the city – voices, the wind against buildings, horn honks, calls of vendors and beggars, arguments, trains, and intermittent music in disparate hemispheres (supplied by Mariachi bands whose players clutch instruments with natty gloves) – these things confuse and disorient the orphan boy.

And punching through the fog, the headlines…




Hektor’s flight from City Orphanage has been hasty and pointless.

A department store window catches his eye.

A dozen crystal broadcasters with silver frames light the sidewalk.  A banner reads: ON SALE.  Like-minded tickers scroll the bottom of the broadcasters.

More news.


Hektor jumps at the window, practically suctions himself to the glass, eyes wide, mouth open.

Three from the North side, two from the West, plus a stray from downtown.


Gabriel Gonzales, 9, boy

Bonnie Petrovsky, 8, girl

Gabby Koof, 10, girl

Tahu Yacano, 6, girl

Kasey Chaubaud, 10, girl

Juan Nord, 6, boy

Hektor’s and Fleck’s names are not listed.  He recognizes none of these latest missing children.  But he feels that he knows them.  Has known them.  May know them again.  In front of the department store window, just before being shooed away by a store clerk for dirtying the glass with his fingers, his purpose is renewed.

He sets off again…though with no more clear sense of direction.

The sun’s burned out and the city glows with artificial light.  The Friday commute is over, replaced by gathering crowds in restaurants, cafés, and bars.

An old beggar grabs the boy’s arm.  Hektor violently shakes him off and runs four blocks in under 20 seconds.

It’s quickly 10 o’clock.  His head hurts.  He rubs his aching stomach and his pounding temples.

He stretches tall beside a Zigon Park that’s full of modern equipment, a perfect place for boys.  But it’s closed at this late hour.  He has no recollection of playing in a park with his parents.  Memories from before their deaths are the blurs of passing trains.  Listless, he leans onto the park’s sign and wonders if his dead parents would have been good playmates.  Would my burned father have chased me around the slides?  Would my charred mother have pushed me in a swing?  He can’t think about it.  The speculation makes him melancholy.  And he should be focused on the search, not his own empty guesses.

At this dark hour, chains drape across the swings, the parks lights doused.  Go away, says the park.  Just go away.

Hektor rests on a large chisel of rock at the park’s edge.  He molds his fingers on the cold surface and realizes that the rock is a fake.  Hollow.  Made of an unnatural material.  He reaches into his coat and withdraws the first of his candy bars and begins to eat.  Slowly.

If I were to disappear, he thinks, where would I go?

Considering the question, he realizes that he, in fact, has disappeared – in the eyes of Jose and the orphanage, at least.  Jose will be mad as hell.  The supervisor may be searching the city for him at this very moment.  He wonders if Jose misses him and, just as he thinks this, he realizes he misses Jose.  If he had stayed, Jose would be helping him with the dishes, or tucking him into his cot, or giving him another comic book.

Too late now.

He’s made his decision.

To find the children.  To fight the Joker.  The Penguin.  Two-Face.  All the villains from the pulp pages he savors nearly as much as his stale nut-and marshmallow candy bar.

Behind him—

A noise from the depth of the park.

A moaning.

He stops eating and peers over his shoulder.

Soft moaning.

He cannot tell if it is man, woman, or animal.

Hektor curls the wrapper over the remaining wedge and tucks the candy bar back in his brown coat.  The pedestrians have thinned.  If any of the remaining can hear these sounds, they don’t let on.

Hektor swings over the fake rock.


Turned from soft to pained.

Hektor jerks up and leaps inside the park’s grasp.  He hops further into range, holding the last chew of candy bar in his mouth as the marshmallow melts on his tongue and into his teeth.

He can’t see much.  The playground’s equipment is in the way.  And where there are not swings and slides, there are shadows.  The soft surface of the ground absorbs Hektor’s boot-steps.

If I were a missing child, he thinks, I would hide in a park.

A grin crosses his face.  He is a child; he is in the park; he is, technically, missing.

He turns at the seesaw and dips down toward the Jungle Gym.  An odd-shaped figure moves back and forth in the center of the maze of metal and plastic.  Hektor has visions of a hunted urban monster, a misbegotten cluster of human parts, wandering the city and grabbing children with its four arms and stomping them with its four legs, eating them with its moaning mouth.

This image stops him cold.

He shivers and wants to run away.

The monster is in front of him.

Near the swings.

The male figure looks up.  So does the female in his lap.  Someone rushes to explain things to Hektor’s approaching silhouette.  She’s not a hooker, mister, I swear!  The voice is a teenager’s and it trembles.  He struggles to zip his blue jeans.  She’s my girlfriend, so, so, it’s not, not a problem.  Okay?

The girl stands and wipes her mouth.

Both have their eyes on Hektor.

Hektor calculates the bulk of the teenager.  He’s immense – tall and athletic.  He wears a tight—fitting black jersey with hood and white drawstrings dangling over his chest.

His girlfriend’s face is flat and severe.  She wears a micro-skirt, warm leggings, and torn-sleeve jacket.

In an instant, the teenage boy’s face changes.  Shit.  Some kid.  Fucking kid.

Hektor backs away.

Come here, you fuck, I’m talking to you!

Hektor makes it halfway to the fake rock before a strong hand snares his coat.  He struggles to get away and almost slips out of his sleeves to get free.  But then his skin feels the prick of the cold, and he remembers the potential for the frosty night ahead.  He’s going to need this coat.  So instead, he winds his arms around his body and allows himself to be pulled onto the ground.

Fucking pervert.  Come to watch?  Like to watch, huh?  Fucking pervert.

Let’s get out of here, D., urges the girl with the lazy voice of someone roused from sleep.

What’s a guy got to do to get a little time alone with his girlfriend around here?  The older boy pounces into Hektor.  His fists connect with Hektor’s shoulders, head, and hands.  A nasty blow lands on the boy’s right eye.  Hektor defends himself by curling into a ball and rolling in the opposite direction of the attack.

You fuck! punches the teenager.

A pack of soldiers talking loudly walks near the park.  Their voices break the pounding.  As the soldiers haze each other (oblivious that 10 meters away) there is a boy in trouble, the teenager follows the uniformed men with his eyes.

Shut up, he whispers down at Hektor.  Hektor can smell the beer on his breath.  Don’t you fucking say a thing.

His girlfriend is getting nervous.  Let’s go, D.  I’ll…I’ll finish you around the corner.

Fist up in the air, cocked and ready, the teenage boy winds for a punch to the face.  Then he opens his hand.  Ehhhk, he dismisses.  He walks away.

The barrage is over as quickly as it started.

Hektor doesn’t watch them walk out of the park.

The soldiers vanish around the corner.

Alone, Hektor straightens himself.  His other candy bar has been crushed with the fall to the ground.  Under the streetlamps, he realizes his right eye has swollen nearly shut.  The damage could be worse.  Slowly, the adrenalin drains from his body and he is left with soreness and sadness.  He wants to sleep somewhere comfortable for a long, long time.  Hours.  Days.  Weeks.  And he is ashamed.  A boy just a half-dozen years older made easy work of him.

I have no powers, his voice inside laments.  And, though Batman has no actual special powers, Batman has special equipment that Hektor cannot in a million years hope to afford.  I can do nothing.  I am nobody and I can do nothing.

He wanders away from the scene of his ruination.  Every block looks the same: closed storefronts, trash-clogged gutters, faint echoes of music from cracked windows, plus the whirring sounds of glides en route to better and brighter.

At the end of a block, Hektor discovers flat, uninhabited terrain surrounded by wire.  There is a small hole in the fence and he crawls through it, catching and tearing his coat at the sleeve.  His feet are throbbing.  Huddled in a corner near a junction box and a Siamese connection, he begins to cry.  The tears are cold on his cheeks and his wounded eye hurts him more than ever.  He can’t even touch it.