In keeping with my habit of posting short stories of limited appeal (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here), I’m offering up my latest piece of fiction. Since it’s not much different from my previous forays into this genre, I have a quiet confidence that readers will find this, too, to be strange and unfortunate. It is entitled,

Warriors for the Working Day

“The writing assignment is ‘A Nation without Heroes,'” said Thomas.

“Sounds very Simon and Garfunkel,” responded Ginger.

“This professor is definitely a child of the 60s,” said Thomas. “I don’t know how to write this. ‘A Nation without Heroes’ just sounds bad. I’m not very good with doom and gloom.”

Ginger paused for a moment. “It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. Whether someone is a hero depends on how you tell the story. Approach it as a change in the way that people write history. It’s double edged. We’re iconoclastic about the great-man type heros, but we celebrate common people with everyday lives.”

“Yeah, you’re a history major. That’s your domain.”

“Let me put it another way. We no longer have the icons and idols. But that means that everyone can be a hero. Everyone should be a hero, but in a smaller, more human way. Even you, Thomas.” Ginger smiled and winked. “What do you think of that?”

Thomas smiled. “You need a hero, Ginger?”

“Everyone can use a hero, Thomas.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” said Thomas.

The sound of an approaching subway train caught their attention, and they sat quietly as they watched it pull in and come to a stop.

“This is me. See you later,” he said. He hopped onto the second subway-car and stood in the back where there was room.

Toward the front of his subway-car stood a group of women in their late-teens or early-twenties. They were being rambunctious and making quite a bit of noise. Thomas noticed them because they were nicely dressed and pretty.

One of the women was black, and she wasn’t hanging-on to the grips. At one stop, she lost her balance and had to take a few steps forward, causing her to step on the foot of another passenger on the train.

What’s your problem!” he shouted. The entire train went quiet.

“I’m sorry,” said the woman.

You should be!” he shouted back. “Settle down!” Everybody was watching.

“I didn’t mean to — ” started the woman.

You dumb bitch!” he yelled, leaning toward her. The passengers were now quite alarmed, especially the recently rambunctious women.

Before he could stop himself, Thomas raised his arm and pointed at the angry passenger from across the car and asserted, “That’s enough out of you.” Everybody turned toward Thomas.

The angry passenger shot back, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Thomas was just as surprised by his behavior as the passive onlookers. The train had stopped, so Thomas walked to the front of the car, approached the angry passenger, and stated, “It means that you need to stop speaking to her like that.”

“And what are you going to do about it?” scoffed the angry passenger.

Thomas smiled to mask his uncertainty. He wasn’t ready to give an ultimatum yet. “Try it, and you’ll see,” he said.

Just then, the subway driver walked up from the first car. “Back off, both of you, or I’ll thrown you off the train,” he said.

“That was close,” Thomas thought to himself. And he returned to his place at the back of the car. The subway driver returned to the front, the train began to move again, and the car remained quiet. Two stops later, the angry passenger got off. Once outside, he motioned to Thomas to get off. Thomas waved and looked away.

As soon as the doors closed and the subway pulled away from the stop, the woman said, “Thank you,” and everybody on the train clapped for Thomas.

Thomas just shrugged and said, “You’re welcome.” And then he looked down at the floor and smiled. Nobody had ever clapped for him before.

The car remained quieter than normal until the next stop, when the women got off, and the usual chatter began to continue.

When Thomas got off at his stop, he walked to the nearby drug store to grab a soda. He left the store, opened the bottle, and thought about what a nice day it was while he was waiting for the cross-walk signal to change. As soon as it did, he strode into the street.

A large, white van pulled out of the parking lot across the street, turning left while the driver looked for traffic to his right. Thomas saw the van coming and backed up slowly, thinking that the driver would see him. But he didn’t. The right-front corner of the van hit Thomas in the rib cage as the van accelerated into the lane of traffic. The impact threw Thomas a few yards to the curb.

Thomas found himself lying on road by the sidewalk. He noticed that he was panting as if he’d run a race, except that he was also coughing and almost choking. He tasted blood in his mouth, and looked around for his soda but didn’t see it. He wiped his chin with his hand, saw that it was covered in blood, and coughed some more. “I am one hurting unit,” he thought to himself.

People gathered around to look. Everyone wanted to see him, but they left him alone. Nobody came near. They maintained their distance, never approaching or coming closer than 20 feet, never taking their eyes from the broken man lying in the street.

By the time the paramedics arrived, Thomas had stopped breathing.

The first paramedic knelt down beside Thomas to assess the situation. “His airway is blocked, and he’s bleeding internally,” he said to the other paramedic.

“I think we got here too late. I think we lost him,” said the other.

The first paramedic started cutting Thomas’s shirt off so he could begin giving him CPR. “I think we can save him,” he said.