Been a while since I posted because… life. But I thought I’d hop back in with a bit of flash fiction. Prompt came from Chuck Wendig. Hop over, read the prompt, give it a whirl, and then read all the other entries. This is mine.
She was a hero. That’s what everyone said, anyway. Billboards flashed with larger-than-life confirmation. Announcers heartily bellowed their worship in advertisements for cars, furniture, and the latest monster burger. Politicians groveled at the altar in their speeches. A hero.
She didn’t feel like a hero. She just felt…tired. Tired and frightened and out of place in this world that moved on without her. Her phone beeped, a reminder–to take her meds, to make her appointments, to breathe. She did the latter, leaning against a wall and taking deep, steadying breaths. It helped this time. The anxiety crept back into the shadows, the sounds of combat no longer thundered in her ears. She took note of her surroundings, grounding herself in the here and now: a little girl on a swing, a couple riding bicycles, her clothing (civilian and clean), the cool spring breeze. Here, not there.
The ghosts faded a little more.
Her phone beeped again. Right. The interview. Squaring her shoulders, she pushed off from the wall and walked into a different kind of battle. Since returning, her interviews followed a familiar pattern. She was overqualified for some, underqualified for others. Like time, technology moved on. What was cutting edge before she… well… before, had been replaced with something new and different and unknown. They appreciated her service, wished they could help, praised her bravery… but they just couldn\’t use her right now. Maybe after she updated her skill set?
Swallowing hard, she looked from the elevator to the stairs. The stairs were better, safer, but time was short. She risked the elevator. The smooth metal walls threatened to press in on her, trap her, suffocate her. She focused on the flashing numbers and breathed. An elderly man joined her on one floor, a small family on another. The walls closed in a little more. She started to shake.
“Mommy,” the little boy whispered in that too-loud stage whisper all children use, “what happened to her arm?”
The mother hushed her child with embarrassed harshness. They exited on the next floor before she could answer the boy’s curiosity. The elderly man gave her a sad, sympathetic smile and the walls closed in a little bit more.
She was visibly sweating by the time she arrived at her floor. Her blouse stuck to her back, her heart stuck in her throat. The breathing exercises weren’t helping and reality had become fluid, memories overlapping to create a dangerous haze. Her hand fisted. Her breaths came in harsh pants.
“Sergeant!” The barked out word jerked her from that place that was neither here nor there and into the present. Her back straightened, and she stared at the man in front of her. Short and round and balding, he returned her stare with the confidence and command of a drill sergeant.
She glanced at the clock. She was ten minutes early.
“I…” She reached up to scratch her arm, remembered the pinned up sleeve, and let her hand drop. Color warmed her cheeks. “Sorry, sir.”
The man’s expression softened, and he tilted his head toward the door. “Follow me.” He motioned for her to sit before dropping into his chair behind the desk. “Before we get started, I need to make one thing clear: I don’t hire heroes. I hire hard workers willing to bust their asses to make this company a success. Are you a hero?”
She looked from his lined face to the displays around his office. A flag in a shadowbox. An array of medals. Fading photographs of far-off places and men in uniform.
“No, sir,” she said with a smile. “I’m no hero.”
He returned her smile. “Good.”