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Your Hero Can't Save You Now

Katie Conrad is a writer and lawyer who lives in Halifax, NS with her partner and one very cute cat. She is a novice gardener, enthusiastic baker, and occasional knitter. She has previously been published in Cloud Lake Literary, NonBinary Review, and A Quiet Afternoon 2.

Jacob rubbed his eyes as he stumbled down the stairs. It had been a long time since he'd been woken by a late-night fire alarm and he didn't appreciate it. He'd barely had time to shove his feet into his shoes, pull on a hoodie, and slip his phone into his pocket before he joined the crowd trudging down from the twelfth floor of the building.
People around him murmured to each other, but he walked in grumpy silence. It was always so hard to get back to sleep once he'd woken up. He wondered how long he would spend tossing and turning when he finally got back to bed.
Out in the parking lot, the crowd was bigger than he expected. It was summer and the air was still warm despite the hour. He almost regretted the hoodie.
He tried to find somewhere to sit or lean, but there was nowhere to stop. The crowd kept moving farther away from the building. Someone at the back was urging them on. The nearby apartments were being evacuated too. There were a lot of people milling around.
The air smelled of exhaust and hot pavement as their group was pushed farther from the buildings. He didn't smell any smoke. He wondered why so many buildings were being evacuated if there was no fire. He glanced back. His building was almost out of sight. One more turn and it was gone.
They were being herded toward the plaza in the middle of town, where enormous shapes lurked under blazing lights from the sky above. In the sudden glare he saw that the whole city had been gathered. Every street was clogged with people, and out in the square they were being organized into lines and corralled toward the massive structures.
It was a dream. It had to be.
But the harsh lights and the growing concern of those around him felt too real. A young woman behind him was crying. Somewhere up ahead a man was screaming.
And there, half a block in front of him, was a familiar face.
"Hey," he said to the guy beside him, "isn't that Darren McBain?"
"Huh?" The man looked where he was pointing. "Yeah, I guess. I don't know."
"It is. I'm sure it is. Darren! Hey, Darren!"
People around him turned to stare, but not Darren McBain.
Jacob pushed his way through the crowd, eager to catch up before he lost sight of his target.
"Darren! Darren, hey!" he yelled as he wove between the people, making for the broad-shouldered figure ahead of him.
People were staring at him, but he couldn't let an opportunity like this pass.
He was almost at the square by the time he caught up. "Darren McBain! I knew it was you. Hey man, I'm Jacob. Sorry to bother you like this but I'm such a big fan I just had to meet you."
The man finally turned to look at him. He was even taller in person than he looked on TV. It was one thing to know your favorite quarterback was 6'5"; it was another thing altogether to have him towering over you.
"Are you for real right now?" Darren blinked down at him as they were corralled into one of the line-ups in the plaza.
"Absolutely! Sorry, I know it's the middle of the night and you probably just woke up or whatever but I just had to say hi."
The football player stared at him in silence for a long moment before shaking his head. "Alright dude, sure. Hi. Nice to meet you."
He extended a hand and Jacob shook it. Darren's massive palm easily dwarfed his own slim fingers. "Thanks so much for taking the time. Really."
"It's not like I've got anything better to do, I guess." Darren spread his hands to encompass the scene around them. "Looks like we're going to be in line for a while."
Jacob glanced ahead. There were a few people before them in the line, but not that many. Shit. He'd better talk fast.
"Look, since I've got you here, I just wanted to say how much I admire you. Your story is so inspiring and I've always looked up to you. I'll never forget when you first came here and helped the team turn things around. I was having a rough year and watching football was the only thing that kept me going. Having the games to look forward to and seeing the team really come together and step it up that year showed me that I could do the same thing. I finally started getting help for my depression and working toward my dreams. I can't tell you how grateful I am."
Darren's face had softened a little as he spoke. "Hey man, I'm glad to hear that. It's always a pleasure to meet a fan, and if I helped you out in some small way, that's the stuff that inspires me to keep playing."
"It's such an honor to meet you. Any chance we could get a selfie?"
They were almost to the front of the line now, and he knew he didn't have much time left before they got herded onto the waiting ship.
"Uh, I mean, sure. Why not?" Darren shrugged.
Jacob held his phone out in front of them and Darren graciously crouched a little so they could both fit into the frame. He snapped the photo.
And then they were at the front of the line. Darren was pulled away to be branded and cuffed. Jacob kept his phone out, staring at the picture and smiling like a fool, until the aliens knocked it from his hands and herded him onto their ship.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 1st, 2022

Author Comments

This was one of those rare story ideas that arrived in my head complete, out of nowhere, like a gift from the depths of my brain. That original idea was about a specific celebrity who happened to be visiting my city at the time, but I was uncomfortable writing about a real person, so I changed it to be about a fictional football player. The biggest challenge in the writing process was a lot of time spent agonizing about whether or not this was even a story or just a vignette and if it was even worth trying to do anything with it. After going around in circles a few times I decided to just send it out and let someone else make that decision.

- Katie Conrad
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