The cry was faint. Gabriel stopped, holding his breath, hoping, waiting for it to come again. For a minute all he could hear was the mother’s stifled sobs behind him.
“There!” Gabriel sprinted through the trees. He pushed through a thicket and his feet dropped out from under him. For a second he dangled over the edge of a cliff, clutching at thin sapling. His foot found a root and he pulled himself to safety.
From below, a faint whimper drifted on the wind. Gabriel leaned over the drop-off. A glimpse of pink showed, wrapped around a sharp rock.
“Mandy, honey, stay really still for me, okay?” Gabriel pulled a rope from his pack and looped it around a nearby tree. His first step down the hill sent a volley of rocks tumbling beneath him. The wails of the child increased. Finally he reached the child, who dangled secured only by a loop of her skirt that had caught around a boulder. The steep slope below the girl turned sheer, solid rock plunging another fifty feet to the bottom.
“You’re okay. I’ve got you.”
Caleb jumped and almost dropped his book. He scowled and looked around the crowed airport.
There it was again. He ran his eyes over the row of waiting travelers across the isle from him, noting the teen biting her already reddened lip, the mother grabbing for her runaway toddler, and--aha--a man studying a crossword puzzle and tapping his pen against his forehead. There it came. His fingers wrapped absentmindedly around the pen’s pocket clip and pulled. *snap*
Caleb picked up the book again.
Gabriel struggled to steady himself in the loose dirt and stones as he reached for the girl without dislodging her. Slowly, slowly…
The book came down again and Caleb rolled his eyes. How could such a small sound bother him so much in a noisy, crowded terminal? And how was he supposed to get through college if he was so distracted.
“FL…T 93, BOAR…ING GROUP …. NOW.” The voice over the intercom was loud, but surprisingly muffled.
“Ah, that’s my flight.” Caleb stuffed his book, Real Life Stories of Real Life Heroes, into his carryon. “Guess there’ll be plenty of time to rescue Mandy during the flight.”
He stood in the line of shuffling people. Normal people, going on normal flights. How many of them were heroes? How many of them had risked their lives to save someone else?
Caleb wondered if he’d ever get that opportunity. He could see himself now, racing across the field, stumbling and tripping in the darkness. His ankle twisted beneath him, but he didn’t notice. All that filled his vision was the one gleaming eye of the train as it bore down on a woman who struggled in the middle of the track, her foot stuck in the--
The airline worker slapped her clipboard down. “I said boarding pass, please!”
Muttering an apology, Caleb produced his paperwork. He filed onto the plane and found his seat. Middle chair. Figured.
“Hey, I’m Mike.” The man beside him offered a hand. “Where you headed?”
“College.” Caleb grimaced. “Not sure yet if that’s exciting or nasty.”
Mike chuckled. “I’m headed to visit my dad. Not exactly nasty, but he’s not the most fun person to be around. He’s not getting any younger, though, so I figure I’m due him a visit.”
“My dad was a hero.” Caleb bit his lip. He hadn’t meant to say that.
“Oh yeah?” Mike looked at him curiously. He motioned to the book the young man had already pulled from his pack. “You’re into heroes, huh?”
Caleb flushed a little. “Yeah, I guess. Always have been. I loved the superhero comics when I was a kid. Now I’m more into the real thing.”
“I know a hero.” Mike’s eyes lit up. “He was unbelievable. During a big storm he’d go right out in the middle of the water to save people. Most of the time he was quieter about it, though. Helping people who were sick... things like that.”
“I’ve thought about becoming a doctor.” Caleb grinned. “Be a kinda-hero, you know?”
“Yeah.” Mike nodded thoughtfully. “This guy I know does lots of stuff like that. But the funny thing was, people didn’t like him. Got pretty mad at him, actually, and threatened to make him stop.”
“That’s stupid. Why?”
“Hard to say.” The older man leaned back, buckling up as the plane started to taxi. “Maybe they felt guilty they weren’t helping people. Maybe they thought this guy was too much like God and threatened their religion.”
Caleb snorted. “Religions make people do stupid things.”
“That they do.” Mike sighed. “One time they were rioting against him. Things were getting pretty out of control. He was right there in the middle of the crowd and then he just disappeared. Showed up a long ways away. No one had a clue how he did it.”
“They said he raised people from the dead, walked on water, stuff like that.”
“Just rumors, huh? They made him into a comic book man.” Caleb laughed.
“Maybe.” Mike waited as the plane took off, fighting gravity until it finally broke free and lifted up. “Maybe not.”
“What do you mean, maybe not? Hey, you really knew this guy?”
Mike pursed his lips, then continued the story without answering. “He had even more enemies than any comic book man, that’s for sure. One day they killed him. Just like that. Tortured and killed him because they didn’t like him.”
“Woah.” Caleb twisted to look at the man better. “Where was this?”
“Rome.” Mike rummaged under his seat and produced a tiny black book. “Here’s that ‘comic book’, all about his miracles.”
Caleb took it and flipped it over. “‘New Testament.’ The Bible? Man, you had me going there.”
“Yup. That’s ‘cause it’s all real. I know Him.” Mike tapped his chest. “He’s living right here in my heart. Jesus was one hero, that’s for sure. Still is, actually. How many people do you know who rose from the dead?”
Caleb shook his head. “I’ve never heard anything religious told like that before. That’s whacked.”
“Oh, don’t go making this religious. Jesus wasn’t about religion. He was about being a hero. A real life hero, come to save the world. All He wants in return is faith.”
The book was heavy and comfortable in Caleb’s hand. He flipped through it. “Those stories are in here?”
“Those and lots more. Here, I’ll show you why He came to earth.”
For another half an hour the men leaned over the “book of heroes,” talking about Jesus, and new life. After a while, Mike leaned back. “So, you interested in getting to know that hero? Having him be your friend, too?”
Caleb looked down at the red words in the book, words unlike any he’d heard before. “Yeah, yeah, I think I’d like that.”
Mike talked him through a prayer, but it wasn’t like any prayer Caleb had ever heard. It was more like… well, like talking to a friend.
“Here, you can have the New Testament. I’ll even write your name in it, and the date, so you can remember when you met your Hero.” Mike patted his shirt pocket, looking for a pen.
“Here.” The man on the other side of Caleb leaned over, offering a pen.
“Thanks.” Mike posed the pen over the book. “What’s the date? Eleventh, isn’t it?”
“Yup.” The man turned to Caleb. “I couldn’t help but overhearing the conversation. I’m a Christian, too.” He offered a hand. “By the way, I’m Todd Beamer. Welcome to the family.”
In memory of all the heroes on Flight 93 on September 11th, 2001. Except for Todd Beamer, all the characters and events in this story are completely fiction.
© 2008 Amy Michelle Wiley