Heroes - Chapter 1: Childhood's End - Part 1: Andre's Visitor

Heroes – latest draft – December 28, 2005
(Retyped from the last printed copy after a hard drive crash)

Chapter 1: Childhood’s End
Part 1: Andre’s Visitor

Cold. The yard was cold, dead cold. Andre hated his job. His caretaker duties extended to night patrols and early morning grave visits. Already tonight he’d chased off three pair of amorous teenagers titillated by the concept of making love surrounded by the dead. Children these days didn’t value the old things. The past was nothing more than something they studied in school. Surely Paris was the city of love, but did they honestly have to take the phrase so literally?

A loud crack pierced the silence of the October night. A waning moon peeked slowly, lazily from behind wispy clouds.

Andre sighed.

What foolishness would this be then? Was it more libidinous visitors with a need to challenge the sanctity of his domain? Wicked gang members obsessed by courage rituals? Vandals? Nothing fazed the old man anymore and nothing worried him either. His charges couldn’t complain after all.

Rushing was the act of a younger man so Andre sauntered through the common headstones toward the larger mausoleums. Unsure in the damp soil, he stopped a moment to rest and  placed his weary hand to steady himself on a grave.

The air felt warmer here. It smelt of ozone and electricity. Leery of vandals bearing explosives, he decided to wait and watch from relative cover.

Walking the graves on a night with a clear moon meant Andre used his light sparingly and in a realization that he stood easily observed he doused his hand torch. Once the artificial light died and his aged eyes adjusted he could clearly see an ominous glow from behind one of the far crypts. It wasn't a natural glow. The ragged weeds about the concrete and stonework structure appeared burned. The tips glowed ember hot and a fog like smoke rose up.  Andre considered advancing from hiding, but his innate cowardice kept him stunned and silent.

An instant later he heard another sound. Unlike the unnatural crack he recognized it. Someone was pulling a tomb door open. Normally, the heavy stone doors of the ancient buildings required at least three men and a heavy wench to wedge them out so Andre prepared for a gang. He couldn’t see clearly enough but he couldn't see any such gathering of people ahead. Three men would grunt, groan and exert themselves. He'd heard nothing of the sort. The sliding of stone continued softly now, as though the grave's invaders were working to keep quiet. Again, Andre knew better than to approach.Grave robbers often sought valuables, treasures that had long since been stolen from these ancient graves. He had no interest in risking injury to protect dried bones and dust.

Slowly he turned, careful not to disturb anything, he knew the cemetery rows well enough to navigate them blind and in the interest of his safety he decided to test that assumption. The moist ground below his feet meant there was little chance he'd attract  the invader's attention so Andre walked cautiously away toward the cemetery gates and the prospect of police aid. Moving as quickly as his addled bones would carry him, Andre rounded the last row toward the gate keeping the broken tomb far behind him.

One last tomb lay before the tall spikes of the gate. Though Andre expected to find the gateway breached, the lock smashed and broken, it was just as he’d left it earlier in his rounds. He heard a faint sound to his right  like someone crying or whimpering. Surprised, he turned to face the sound. There, a dozen graves away, crouched a dark figure staring intently at a faded and broken headstone. The figure didn’t notice him, but suddenly Andre was transfixed. He’d seen hundreds of visitors over the last twenty years but this person, cloaked in darkness, so frightened him.

The moon shifted in the clouds and the previously obscured grave caught a faint luminescence. Andre could see the spectral figure more clearly now. It was a man, a very large man. His clothing was smoldering slightly. Gently the man reached down to the grave dirt pulling from the earth a small violet grave flower. The man’s face shined slightly in the moonlight as a single tear rolled off his cheek onto the dirt below. Andre’s paralysis faded and panic caught him in its grip. Turning sharply, he lost his footing and began an unbalanced fall. His left knee buckled as his head careened toward the sharp corner of the nearby grave.

Andre closed his eyes. Prepared for the impact, he anticipating pain and inhaled sharply but the crash never came. Andre knew he hadn’t avoided the stone obstacle, he didn’t have the balance or agility to do anything but accept the events before him. There was a soft pressure on his back, a lifting and then release.

His feet were no longer on solid ground, but neither was he tumbling. He felt cradled, scooped up in a gentle caress. Someone had caught him in the split second between his slip and the termination of the fall. Who? No one had been near enough. The man in the shadow could never have crossed the distance so quickly. Had he missed the man’s accomplice? No. He knew his age, but his senses were still sharp, he could not have missed another visitor. Andre resigned himself to open his eyes and try and make sense of the confusing situation.

Shock overcame him then. The dark figure from the graveside had him, his feet pressed dirt and he rebalanced with the man’s help. His shock turned to panic and he swung his flashlight at his savior’s head.

The metal torch made a soft thud upon the man’s temple. Andre expected a cry of pain or shock but the man smiled warmly and took the light from his hands as an adult would remove a rattle from an infant's grasp. The impact reverberated through Andre’s arm, he'd swung with the totality of his strength and his tired muscles ached from the sheer exertion, yet the figure stood unfazed and unaffected.

The air was warmer somehow and Andre realized that this man radiated the heat he’d seen forming the  misty fog. He spoke something in American English. Andre recognized the language, but didn’t know the words. The accent was clearly American.

Andre stood solidly and took the measure of his guest. He was a very large man, nearly seven feet in height and built like an Olympic power-lifter. Andre knew he stood no chance against him so he cowered. The man frowned and spoke a phrase Andre did recognize.

“I’m sorry.” he said.

The stranger recognized the recognition in Andre’s expression. Dropping the torch, the man said more American English words, most of them unfamiliar to Andre.

“I will leave. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I needed to get my bearings.”

Andre understood the gist of the statements but wanted the man gone from his cemetery. The stranger sensed Andre’s desire and pointed toward the graveyard's portal.

Turning one last time to ensure Andre’s stability, the man offered a light wave and was gone. An odd smell of carbon and a blast of intense heat blew past Andre as he appeared to rise quickly from the ground in a direct line skyward.


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