stefanie_bean: (lost people)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Title: Last Man Standing
Characters: Hurley, OCs
Rating: T
Length: 1902 words
Notes: One-shot, complete

Summary: Hurley visits a comic book shop the day before Ajira Flight 316.

Last Man Standing

“Comics World” read the sign above the tiny shop wedged in between a dry cleaners and a Western Union office. The comic store sat in the middle of a long block, which usually made parking a problem, but Hugo Reyes's luck held and he slid the yellow Humvee right into a spot by the door.

Outside in the mid-afternoon sun, a fat man named Manuelo leaned back on a rickety folding chair that looked just about to collapse under his weight. “Yo,” he said as Hugo approached the storefront. “Haven't seen you around in a long time.” His strongly-accented Spanish hearkened back to his Zapotec roots.

“Yeah, well, I've, uh, been away,” Hugo stammered back, not wanting to tell Manuelo right here on the street that barely three days earlier, he had broken out of the Santa Rosa Mental Health facility with a wild-man of an Iraqi, thrown a Hot Pocket at the scariest person in the world, then gotten arrested for some murders he didn't commit and taken to the LA County lockup. And how just this morning, after the judge told him he was free to go, he'd had that weird encounter with the man in the taxicab. The man who was sending him back to the Island.

But Hugo's flight didn't leave till tomorrow afternoon, and he wanted some reading material. So here he was at Comics World for what might well be the last time.

“Away, huh. It's good to see you anyway, friend,” the rotund older man said. “Take a look around. We got a lot of new stuff.”

The inside of the small store was as dark, crowded, and cluttered as Hugo remembered it. Glass counters overflowed with toys, some new, some older than Hugo himself. Anime posters lined the walls, some mounted on top of one another, as if someone had put up a new one without bothering to take down the old. Three wide, battered wooden tables filled the center of the store, and cardboard boxes full of comic books covered each of them. A prominent sign on the table closest to the door said, “Dollar Comics,” and that's where Hugo headed.

Behind the checkout counter stood a young woman almost half-hidden by a pile of unsorted comics, graphic novels, and office clutter. Plump, curly-haired, wearing a Wonder Woman t-shirt, she smiled at Hugo as he walked by.

Hugo gave a shy smile back and started to browse through the boxes on the dollar table. Some of the stuff was categorized behind cardboard alphabetical dividers, but a lot of it wasn't. He waded patiently through, every now and then glancing up at the girl behind the counter, but only when he was really sure she wasn't looking.

Manuelo lumbered in. “Hey Mia,” he said to the girl. “Lunch is on your old uncle today. I'm going down to Barreiro's on the corner for subs. You want one, sweetheart?”

“Sure,” Mia said. “Chicken with BBQ sauce. Hot.”

“What about you?” Manuelo said to Hugo. “Just for old time's sake. Frequent customer and all, even though you been away.”

Hugo wanted to. He really wanted to, and not just because Barreiro's made the best hoagies in East LA. It would be awesome to have a sub and a couple cans of Dr. Pepper from the old soda machine in the back of the store, to chat with Manuelo and the girl, and then spend the rest of the afternoon rummaging through the collection. And Mia looked up at him with a flash in her eyes which looked a lot like expectation.

But not this time. He had to pack. He needed to talk to Dad, especially, because Mom was pretty mad at him. She wasn't doing so well right now with his getting on a plane for Guam tomorrow (Guam, right, as if they were really going to Guam.) Especially after that wild story he had told her. A wild story which happened to be God's honest truth.

So with real regret Hugo said, “Man, I can't. Maybe next time.”

“Next time, you got it,” Manuelo said. The old wooden floor creaked under the weight of his step as he went out into the bright clear sunlight. Before he closed the door, he said, “Me and Ricky at Barreiro's got some catching up to do. So Mia, hope you're not starving. We might be a while.”

“OK, Uncle,” she said with a trace of a laugh in her voice. Then she busied herself behind the counter as Hugo continued to look, and not just at the comics.

The door swung open and two men came in, the kind of young-old men you saw way more often west of I-710 than east of it. The tall, thin one was complaining in English to the shorter, dark one that it had taken forever to find this place, and why did they have to drive all the way over here from Westwood to a comic shop when there were so many up by Hollywood?

The shorter man answered, “I read online that they have stuff here nobody else has. If you can find it.”

The thin man gave a kind of sniff and walked halfway around the tables, surveying their sprawling contents as if he wasn't sure about them. Then he started to browse the dollar table along with Hugo, ignoring Hugo and everyone around him.

The shorter man stood opposite Hugo, so Hugo gave him a smile and a nod, but the shorter man looked around nervously and didn't smile back.

Oh, great, Hugo thought. Like I'm going to mug him or something. In a mild voice he said to the shorter man, “Never been here before, huh?”

“Nope, it's my first time,” the man answered, not looking up from the box. There were five more like it on the dollar table, some jammed full, some half-empty. Now all three men clustered around the boxes like chickens around a feeder.

Mia was putting some Batman figures away in a case. The taller man said to her in a demanding voice, “Hey, do you think we might get some help over here?”

“What are you looking for?” she said, her curly brown head half in the case and half out.

“Some organization, for one thing.”

Mia glanced up. “We get new stuff every day. It's not all sorted.”

“That's obvious,” the tall man snapped.

As if Mia wasn't there, the shorter man said to his companion, “She probably doesn't even read them anyway.”

“Who could? Half of them are in Spanish.”

Mia closed the case so hard that the glass rattled. Hugo caught the expression in her eyes, and it wasn't mild.

Suddenly something swept over Hugo, the same wild feeling which had descended upon him several times already that day, ever since that odd conversation in the cab. It was like being carried aloft on a wind somewhere, he didn't know where. Or what was going to happen. He couldn't resist the feelings of rightness, of certainty. And all at once Hugo knew exactly what he was going to do.

He took a deep breath and picked up the box he'd been searching through, then carried it to the counter. The other two men stared at him, but it wasn't until he moved the tall, thin man's box that the man protested.

“What the hell are you doing? I was looking in there.”

“Not any more,” Hugo said. “I'm buying them.” He walked around the table and took the last box from the shorter man, too. “All of them.”

“Come on, let's get out of here,” the thin man said. “He's crazy.”

Oh, if you only knew, Hugo thought.

The two men stood there, transfixed, ready to leave but not wanting to bolt, not sure what to do next.

Hugo opened his wallet and said to Mia in Spanish, “How much for all of them?”

“Oh, man, I don't know. I'd have to count them.”

“Never mind,” Hugo said. Six boxes, a hundred comics per box, although some had a bit less. There were fatter graphic novels and collections mixed in there, too. No problem. He pulled out a wad of twenties and fifties, and began to count as he laid the money out on the counter. “Five hundred, six hundred, a thousand. That ought to do it.”

“We really need to get out of here,” the thin man said again to his friend.

This time the smaller man nodded. “He's probably a drug dealer or something.”

Both men backed away slowly, then slipped out the door. Neither saw Mia's astonished face, or that Hugo had to fight to keep from bursting into laughter. The glass door closed behind them with a bang, but neither Mia or Hugo paid them any mind.

“Man, that's too much money,” Mia said.

“No, it's not,” Hugo answered. “Look, a lot of these marked 4.95 and 5.95 got mixed in. So I think it's fair.”

“Uncle comes back and sees this, he's gonna have a heart attack,” Mia remarked. “Let me help you move them into your car. It's the yellow one out there, right?”

Regret washed over Hugo again. The upcoming plane flight loomed ahead: Ajira 316, to Guam. He was really getting on it. And who knows what would happen after that. He might never walk these streets again, never come back to this store again. The future opened like a chasm, and into it he fell.

“Nah, I'm not taking them with me,” Hugo said. “Give them out when you do one of those 'Free Comics' days.”

She just stood there, astonished, then recovered herself. “You came in for a comic, though. So you should take at least one.”

“Yeah, I should. OK, you pick.”

“Me? Like the gringo said, I don't even read them. This is my after-school job.”

“Where do you go?” Hugo said, not wanting to leave, even though he was in free-fall now.

“East LA Community College,” she answered, the pride in her voice unmistakable. “Nursing. What about you?”

“I'm kind of in between jobs myself.”

“I see,” she said, but the light didn't go out of her expression. “OK, I'll pick.” She closed her eyes and reached into the closest box, pulling out a graphic novel at random. “Here you are.”

He took it from her, and for a second shivered with premonition. On the cover was a space-man in a suit, but he'd been long dead. Nothing but a skeleton left, as a matter of fact. Y: El último hombre, it said in Spanish. Y: The Last Man, “Volume Three, One Small Step.”

Oh, well, he didn't read comics in any particular order anyway. And he was certainly taking one small step, wasn't he?

“This one's awesome,” Hugo said. “Thanks.”

“Come back soon,” she said.

“I'll try,” Hugo answered. At least that was honest. And off he went into the afternoon sun, borne on the winds of destiny.

(the end)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-29 06:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love your writing so much and this was IC and perfect.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-01 02:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks so much for reading this; it means a lot to me.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-29 05:00 am (UTC)
ozqueen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ozqueen
This is lovely ♥

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-29 01:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Welcome, and thanks! So glad you liked it.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-11 01:52 am (UTC)
desdemonaspace: (Default)
From: [personal profile] desdemonaspace
Having just finished The End, I took The Last Man to foreshadow Hugo becoming Island Protector. I actually had chills reading this!

Also, I loved Hugo coming to Mia's rescue from the two racist creeps. Thanks for writing this.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-11 02:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, yeah, this was definitely a Hugo-protector foreshadow story. I'm kind of proud of this one; thanks so much for taking a look.


stefanie_bean: (Default)

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