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Heroes

Written by Robert CormierAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Robert Cormier


· Laurel Leaf
· Paperback · Ages 12 and up
· February 8, 2000 · $6.99 · 978-0-440-22769-4 (0-440-22769-0)

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Heroes
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EXCERPT

Oh, I have eyes because I can see and eardrums because I can hear but no ears to speak of, just bits of dangling flesh.  But that's fine, like Dr.  Abrams says, because it's sight and hearing that count and I was not handsome to begin with.  He was joking, of course.  He was always trying to make me laugh.

If anything bothers me, it's my nose.  Or rather, the absence of my nose.  My nostrils are like two small caves and they sometimes get blocked and I have to breathe through my mouth.  This dries up my throat and makes it hard for me to swallow.  I also become hoarse and cough a lot.  My teeth are gone but my jaw is intact and my gums are firm, which makes it possible for me to wear dentures.  In the past few weeks, my gums began to shrink, however, and the dentures have become loose and they click when I talk and slip around inside my mouth.

I have no eyebrows, but eyebrows are minor, really.  I do have cheeks.  Sort of.  I mean, the skin that forms my cheeks was grafted from my thighs and has taken a long time to heal.  My thighs sting when my pants rub against them.  Dr.  Abrams says that all my skin will heal in time and my cheeks will someday be as smooth as a baby's arse.  That's the way he pronounced it: arse.  In the meantime, he said, don't expect anybody to select you for a dance when it's Girls' Choice at the canteen.

Don't take him wrong, please.

He has a great sense of humor and has been trying to get me to develop one.

I have been trying to do just that.  But not having much success. -->


The gun is like a tumor on my thigh as I walk through the morning streets against the wind that never dies down. April sunlight stings my eyes but the wind dissipates its heat, blustering against store windows and kicking debris into the gutters.

At Ninth and Spruce, I pause and look up at the three-decker and the windows of the second floor, where Larry LaSalle can be found at last. Does he suspect my presence here on the street? Does he have a premonition that he has only a few minutes left to live?

I am calm. My heartbeat is normal. What's one more death after the others in the villages and fields of France? The innocent faces of the two young Germans appear in my mind. But Larry LaSalle is not innocent.

The steps leading to the second floor are worn from use and age, and I think of all the people who have climbed stairs like these, who have worked in the shops and come home heavy with weariness at the end of the day. As I stand at the door of Larry LaSalle's tenement, I touch the bulge in my pocket to verify the existence of the gun. The sound of my knocking is loud and commanding in the silent hallway.

No response. I wait. I rap on the door again, hand clenched as a fist this time.

"Come on in, the door's not locked," Larry LaSalle calls out. That voice is unmistakable, a bit feeble now, yet still the voice that cheered us at the Wreck Center.

Hesitant suddenly, uncertain--his voice giving reality to what I must do--I step into the tenement and into the fragrance of pea soup simmering on the black stove, steam rising from a big green pot.

He is sitting in a rocking chair by the black coal stove, and narrows his eyes, squinting to see who has come into his tenement. He is pale, eyes sunk into his sockets like in the newsreel at the Plymouth, and he seems fragile now, as if caught in an old photograph that has faded and yellowed with age. His eyes blink rapidly as if taking quick pictures of me. Is there a glimmer of fear in his eyes? My heart quickens at the possibility.

"Francis, Francis Cassavant," I announce. It's important for him to know immediately who I am. I don't want to waste any time.

"Ah, Francis," he says, his eyes flashing pleasure because he doesn't sense my mission.

"Come in, come in," he says, the old enthusiasm back in his voice.

He rises slowly from the chair, steadying therocker as he lifts himself up. As he holds out his hands in greeting, I go forward to meet him. We shake hands. At the last minute, when it seems we might embrace as old friends and comrades, teacher and pupil, I pull away. His white hands clutch the air before he clasps them together and settles back into the chair.

"Sit, sit," he says, indicating the chair next to the window opposite his own.

"Take off your jacket," he says. "Your Red Sox cap, too, and your scarf . . ."

I don't move. I don't take off anything. I don't plan to stay long, only long enough to carry out my mission.

"Don't be afraid to show your face, Francis. That face, what's left of it, is a symbol of how brave you were, the Silver Star you earned . . ."



an excerpt from Heroes

        My name is Francis Joseph Cassavant and I have just returned to Frenchtown
        in Monument and the war is over and I have no face.

        Oh, I have eyes because I can see and eardrums because I can hear but
        no ears to speak of, just bits of dangling flesh. But that's fine, like
        Dr. Abrams says, because it's sight and hearing that count and I was not
        handsome to begin with. He was joking, of course. He was always trying
        to make me laugh.

        If anything bothers me, it's my nose. Or rather, the absence of my nose.
        My nostrils are like two small caves and they sometimes get blocked and
        I have to breathe through my mouth. This dries up my throat and makes
        it hard for me to swallow. I also become hoarse and cough a lot. My teeth
        are gone but my jaw is intact and my gums are firm, which makes it possible
        for me to wear dentures. In the past few weeks my gums began to shrink,
        however, and the dentures have become loose and they click when I talk
        and slip around inside my mouth.

        I have no eyebrows, but eyebrows are minor, really. I do have cheeks.
        Sort of. I mean, the skin that forms my cheeks was grafted from my thighs
        and has taken a long time to heal. My thighs sting when my pants rub against
        them. Dr. Abrams says that all my skin will heal in time and my cheeks
        will someday be as smooth as a baby's arse. That's the way he pronounced
        it: arse. In the meantime, he said, don't expect anybody to select you
        for a dance when it's Girl's Choice at the canteen.

        Don't take him wrong, please.

        He has a great sense of humor and has been trying to get me to develop
        one.

        I have been trying to do just that.

        But not having much success.

Excerpted from Heroes by Robert Cormier. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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