Your Hero Complex is Bull – Fiction

Your Hero Complex is Bull

by Scott Hefflon
illustrations by Timothy Walker

Michael and Buzz were vacationing in Pamplona, Spain, far away from the corporate rat race. Michael was with Erin, his long-time girlfriend, soon to be his fiancé as soon as he got around to proposing. Buzz was with his most recent “special friend,” Zoë, who looked like she just stepped out of a fashion magazine. They were here to watch the running of the bulls, the annual race in which bulls chase the participants through the streets of the city. Michael and Buzz even considered being in the race if the spirit moved them. The night before the event, the spirits did move them as they slurred their drunken pledges to live, really live, man, and go for it. The next morning, the collective influence of deathly hangovers and common sense (voiced repeatedly by their “better halves”) prevailed. The adventurous duo accepted their role as spectators, swallowing their over-ambitions with a handful of aspirin.

The couples found themselves a primo location at a particularly racy bend in the road with a clear view both up and down the narrow cobbled street. Onlookers lined both sides of the road, pooling like water in potholes to smooth the city’s intersections into a twisty course that snaked through the city. Actually, a more accurate depiction would be the race course represented a dry riverbed whose banks were defined by the bodies of the onlookers. Sparsely populated along the straight-aways, the course clearly cut by the sharp uprisings of buildings, yet densely fortified at the bends, suggesting only one way out. And while the river bed was empty now, soon would come the torrent of humans, rushing like a mindless river between the banks of fellow humans, with the bulls’ hot, dusty breath quick on their heels. The crowd sweated in anticipation, a parched run-off trench awaiting the flood.

Michael was getting thirsty himself and ordered a round of expensive bottled tap water from a vendor making his rounds. Capitalism flourishes wherever there is a need to be met and a buck to be made.

In the distance, there was the unmistakable sound of a crowd cheering – the combined voice of a multitude of throats, each whooping it up and encouraging the runners in their own way. As one, all eyes turned toward the noise, tensing slightly as the ground beneath them started to tremble. Nervously, the crowd began to rally, to raise their voices to the oncoming stampede. The rumbling of hooves on cobblestones was now plain, like an ominous roar beneath the sound of celebration. And then the forerunners came into view.

With a thin cloud of dust billowing behind them, the result of well-swept streets pummeled mercilessly by running feet and hooves, the runners raced toward the intersection. Michael cheered loudly, though perhaps a touch worriedly, and found himself hugging Erin a bit closer to him. Whether for his support or hers he was unsure, but he noticed out of the corner of his eye that Buzz was doing the same. Buzz raised his water bottle and let loose a wild whoop, a toast to the brave runners rapidly approaching.

The runners’ faces now came into clear focus – determination, excitement, and fear mixed into a fluctuating expression of both living life to its fullest and the terror of a gruesome death. As the runners streaked by, Michael noted some focused intently on the path ahead, their eyes glued to the maze unfolding before them, their motions controlled, refined, and dedicated to the specific purpose at hand: run for your life. Some runners zig-zagged wildly, looking over their shoulders as often as peering ahead, their movements erratic and desperate, the fear of death bleaching their faces white and making their eyes bulge wildly.

And then came the bulls. Confused and angry, they crashed into each other and anything in their paths as they followed the course set by the runners. While terrifyingly large creatures, a tightly-packed mass of muscular destruction, Michael fancied he saw the same desperation in the stampede of bulls as he did in the stampede of men, each responding only to the drive to race onward. Then again, it’s difficult to read the expression of a stampeding bull.

Amidst the bulls were runners trapped on all sides by the rampaging beasts. While they were occasionally broadsided or headbutted by the creatures, they were not mercilessly gored as one might think. As long as they kept pace with the pack and didn’t draw unnecessary attention to themselves, they seemed relatively safe. Even surrounded by the enemy, the surge forward prevailed.

But the stragglers were a different story entirely. Separated from the pack, their attention was distracted by any passing movement. The runners who had worked their way behind the majority of the bulls didn’t want to rejoin the stampede, but they couldn’t stop or step quickly out of the race without attracting the notice of the stray bulls bringing up the rear. The trailing bulls followed every movement of the runners, like snipers keeping their targets locked in the cross-hairs, and only occasionally could a runner slip into the crowd when the bulls’ attention was elsewhere. The crowd parted in these cases, swallowing up the exhausted runners, then closed behind them to cover their path. Audience participation was the difference between life and death for the runners.

One such runner, in a wild attempt to get out of the race, made a beeline for the crowd directly opposite where Michael, Buzz, and their girlfriends were standing. With a snorting, bucking bull hot on his heels, there was no way the crowd could cover for him. They parted as he approached, leading him straight to a wall. The runner’s eyes, already wide with terror, shot frantically about looking for a way out. One brave soul stepped bravely into their path, rolling himself into a ball near the base of the wall. Bracing himself, the man’s back provided a step upon which the runner launched himself. As his body slammed full-tilt into the wall with a sickening thud, the runner’s hand caught the sill of an open window above, and he scrambled through it.

The chasing bull stopped in its tracks having lost anything to chase. The man curled into a ball remained motionless, scarcely breathing. The crowd held its breath, appearing as unmovable as the surrounding walls. All was still. All was hushed. The only sound was the violent exhalations of the bewildered bull. The only movement was the bull pacing in circles, squinting in all directions trying to detect movement.

“Oh, shit,” whispered Buzz.

“What?” whispered back Michael, hoping Buzz could diffuse the tension by announcing he’d run out of film, so why don’t they pop into the nearest drug store and get some.

“It’s a stand-off,” whispered Buzz, thus restating the obvious.

“And?” whispered Michael.

“Well, the bull has nothing to chase. As long as no one moves, the bull will stay here. Pacing. Waiting. No one can move until the bull moves, but the bull won’t move until someone moves. It’s a stand-off.”

“So what happens now?” whispered back Michael, not really wanting to know.

“Someone accidentally moves and the bull charges them, someone cracks under the pressure and tries to make a run for it, or someone’s got to lead the bull away.”

Michael surveyed the scene. The crowd stood frozen, all eyes following the circling, frustrated bull. Some faces were frozen with fear, some were oddly blank, almost inhumanly devoid of expression. Children clung to their mothers, understanding instinctively not to cry despite their stark naked terror. Old, weathered faces looked on with a strange sense of resignation, a stoic strength in itself. No one moved. Nervous muscle twitches and trembling jaws were fought and barely restrained. Each second that ticked on Michael’s wristwatch rang as loud as a hammer on an anvil, and the thudding of his heart sounded like the drumming of a headhunting tribe of savages in a nearby clearing. As he scanned the crowd, Michael was most affected by the eyes of the young. While the adults faced a grisly death of being mauled, impaled, or trampled, the young stared at a monster capable of unimaginable destruction. They didn’t have the words to describe and catalog the pain, but they knew fear. Faceless and terrifying.

It was the children’s eyes that made up Michael’s mind. He glanced beside him at Erin, who perhaps someday might be the mother to his children, and he knew what he had to do.

“Oh, shit,” whispered Michael.

“What?” whispered back Buzz, thinking this was really not the time for Michael to realize he’d run out of film, so why don’t they pop into the nearest drug store and get some.

“I’ll be right back,” he whispered, placing his water bottle in his friend’s dumbly outstretched hand.

Michael stepped forward, squared his shoulders, and ran a hand over his hair. He cleared his throat loudly.

“Ahem. Excuse me, Mr. Bull?” he called out. The bull turned toward the sound of Michael’s voice, craning its neck from side to side, trying to get a better idea of where the noise came from.

“Um, hi. I, ah, just wanted to say, um, the race is that way,” Michael pointed in the direction the race had gone. The bull’s eyes followed the movement of Michael’s arm, then came back to rest on Michael himself.

“Yeah, right. That way,” Michael called out, making a long, double-armed sweeping gesture in the direction of the race. “Yup, all you’re friends are up there waiting for you, there are lots of people who want to be chased, so why don’t you go thaaaat way?” Again Michael swept his arms up the street. The bull turned toward the direction Michael was pointing, but returned again to Michael himself.

“I don’t think he’s buying this,” Michael whispered to Buzz.

“He can’t see what you’re pointing at, all he can see is that you’re pointing,” Buzz whispered back, his lips barely even moving.

“Come on, thaaat’s right. Thaaat way. That way. Good, good,” Michael coached as the bull stepped forward, raising his head as if to peer into the distance, then looked back to Michael for further instructions.

“Right, right, thaaat way,” Michael counseled the bull, “I’m sure the others are wondering where you’ve run off to by now. They’re up there. So why don’t you go catch up with them, they’re up thaaat way. I’m sure you can catch up to them. You look really strong, and, um, fast, and, uh, big…” Michael tapered off as the bull began focusing more and more on him, rather than on his helpful gestures.

“No, ya big dumb… bull, that way! Over there! All the other bulls are having a perfectly wonderful time chasing people who evidently like to be chased, but all the fun is going on up there! You’re left back here giving yourself shin splints by stomping the ground like that watching my dumb ass trying to tell you all the action is up there, There, THERE!” The bull snorted and jerked forward slightly each time Michael gestured quickly or shouted at him.

“Hey, this is kinda cool,” Michael said, almost to himself. He pointed up the street, and the bull moved his head and shuffled that way. He pointed down the street, and the bull shuffled that way. He raised his hands above his head, and the bull looked up. He crouched down and waved, and the bull lowered his head to the ground and snorted appreciatively. “I think he’s starting to get it,” Michael called over his shoulder.

“I think you’re starting to piss him off,” warned Buzz. As if to clear things up, the bull focused directly on Michael, narrowed his already squinty-looking eyes, and lowered his head. The bull’s hoof striking and grinding across the road sounded like two large sections of concrete slamming together and scraping across one another, or better yet, like a really big, angry bull scuffing the ground, preparing to charge.

“Oh, shit,” Michael said, ceasing his clowning around. The bull rolled his head on his thick, muscular neck much like a body-builder does just before lifting some mind-boggling weight. The bull’s head was now almost dragging along the ground as he took tiny steps forward, much like a locomotive gathering steam. And the bull’s snorts furthered that impression, matching each step he advanced. Michael wasn’t sure if bulls have lips, but if they did, this bull’s just peeled back in an angry snarl.

“Oh, shiiiit!” Michael yelled as he took off down the street, the bull charging a split second later. “Aaaaah!” he updated, feet pounding the pavement, hearing the cheers of the crowd both in front of and behind him. But nothing drowned out the gulping, snorting, frothing sounds mere inches from his heels. “Yaaaaaah!” he checked in before disappearing around the corner, the crowd behind him rooting him on.

Buzz and the women breathed a collective sigh of relief along with the rest of the crowd around them. Everyone smiled again now that the danger had passed.

“That was so brave,” Erin uttered, awestruck and impressed that Michael was deep down a valiant man willing to risk his life for the safety of others.

“That was so stupid,” Buzz snorted devilishly.

“But he saved…”

“Oh, the bull would’ve wandered off eventually. And anyway,” he paused, pointing up the street toward the truck driving toward them, “They have officials round up the stray bulls so no one gets hurt.”

“You tricked him!” Erin accused.

“And he fell for it,” Buzz calmly parried.

“But he could be killed!” Erin said, now more concerned than actually scared.

“Aw, he’ll be fine.”