jan burke
jan burke




Even before he started kindergarten, he had figured out that his favorite superhero flew with strings. Now, just over four years later, he wished he had been wrong. They could use a hero with a cape. Escaping into his imagination, he pictured someone with true superhuman powers coming to save them. A soft moan brought him back to the dark room. He hated the way the room smelled: musty and metallic. Whatever form their hero took, he needed to get there quickly. His friend was hurt—a broken arm, maybe. His father would have known. Best not to think about his father. Their mothers wouldn't miss them yet. It was hard to know what day it was, but he didn't think a week had gone by. And maybe the bad guy knew where their mothers were. Maybe their mothers would never come for them. He almost started crying again. Don't be a wussy, he told himself. Don't. He thought instead about his friend. If anything happened to his friend, he didn't want to live. No one else would ever understand him, no one else would know what this had been like.

Intermittently, over the last few hours, his friend had been moaning softly, but now he stopped and held himself silent—they could hear the door opening. Someone was coming down the stairs. The boy trembled, afraid their tormentor had returned. His friend reached out and held his hand. The voice was not the voice of their captor. This man was calling out something about the police, but that didn't fool the boys. Not this time. They stayed silent. The man's clothes were as dark as the room, and he was carrying a flashlight. He said something about Jesus when he saw the bodies of their fathers, the pools of blood. He kept moving the flashlight, and finally it lit the boys' faces.

The man drew in a sharp breath, then said very gently, "Hi. It's okay. Don't be afraid. You're safe now. I'm a policeman."

"A real one?" the boy asked.

"Yes," the man answered, slowly drawing nearer, holding the light up high so they could see him.

"So was the other one," his friend whispered, but later, neither boy would tell anyone what he meant by that.

© Jan Burke