Too Few Heroes


If I were a mom-loving, apple-pie-eating, Chevy-driving American hero, I’d do something—anything, everything—to stop that anonymous guy in the front row of the movie theater. The one you see in the lead story on the network news. The one wearing camo pants and a neon orange baseball cap, with a semi-automatic stowed under the raincoat at his feet. The one intent on going out in a blaze of goddamn unforgettable glory.

The one who lurks in the back of every citizen’s mind whispering, “You could be next.”

I glanced around the theater at the other patrons eating their popcorn and Skittles, watching the previews. Tried to picture the ensuing terror. Predict how things might unfold, if the unspeakable happened.

First to go—two blue hairs, four rows up, voices too loud, chatting about something unimportant, their cats or their grandkids or a recipe for pot roast. Easy pickings to get warmed up.

Next, a gaggle of four teenage girls in the center, all dressed alike, sure to scream and squeal at ear-splitting volume. Such a terrible shame, those promising lives cut short.

Then a suburban family of four. Mom, Dad, twin blond, curly-haired girls, tiny gaps in their smiles from missing teeth. The parents would try to shield the kids, but that was a symbolic gesture only. Bullets tear right through flesh. The entire community would reel from this horrific loss. Flowers and candlelight vigils and memorial funds set up for someone else’s needy kids to go to college.

After those unfortunate souls were picked off, the targets would become random. Bullets spraying, ripping through the confusion, fomenting more chaos. Most of the moviegoers would try to flee, sitting ducks as they clogged the aisles.

The ones who stayed, those who dropped to their knees and hid behind the seats, thinking molded plastic and cushions could stop bullets, would be annihilated as the shooter slowly, methodically, moved up the aisle, mowing down whoever moved. Whoever breathed.

If I were a hero, I might think about charging the shooter, but here, in this situation, that would be suicide. Here, it would take ten heroes, all attacking at the same time in a concerted effort, to bring down a determined shooter with a semi-automatic weapon and plenty of ammo.

I scoped out the audience. Didn’t seem to be ten heroes in the crowd.

I closed my eyes and again imagined the scene. Blood spatter on the walls. Carpet turning crimson.

Mayhem. Bedlam. Pandemonium.

I wasn’t a hero. In fact, there were too few heroes in this world.

Good thing for me.

I rose, hitched up my camo pants, adjusted my cap. Then I bent over and pushed aside my raincoat.

~ fin ~

Alan Orloff headshot

Alan Orloff’s novel, Pray for the Innocent, won an ITW Thriller Award. His debut mystery, Diamonds for the Dead, was an Agatha Award finalist; his story “Dying in Dokesville” won a Derringer Award; and “Rule Number One” was selected for The Best American Mystery Stories. His YA thriller, I Play One on TV, will be published by Down & Out Books in July.