I don’t usually go to the parades. It seems in bad taste. They can thank me if they want, but the it’s-what-anyone-would’ve-done shrug is part of the unwritten heroes’ code.
Besides, it’s just awkward.
But this time, I needed to look into their grateful, shining eyes. I needed to feel I’d done the right thing. I knew I’d done the right thing, but feeling it is something else altogether.
I watched from the back of the square, on the darkened threshold of a closed office building. A four-piece brass band was playing strains of the Wonderkind theme song some web-lebrity had written the year before. A black and gold confetti hurricane swirled above the heads of the crowd, who were singing the lyrics like it was some anthem of hope for humanity. A man with a goatee sold t-shirts printed with the silhouette of my mask.
I didn’t make myself known until the speeches began. Two dozen first-graders and their parents sat in folding chairs on the stage. At a sign from the mayor, the first couple stood. The woman stepped up to the podium; I stepped out of the shadows. At first, nobody noticed me.
“My little girl, Madison, is seven years old,” she began. A roar went up from the crowd as I floated into the air. At least two thousand smart phones were raised and pointed in my direction, and I saw my masked face take over the jumbotron. For a moment, I was afraid they would rush me; for a moment, the woman was stunned. But then she kept talking, directing her words to me instead of to the crowd.
“She’s my baby,” said the woman, “And I would have lost her that day if—”
Her husband put an arm around her as the tears drowned the words in her throat, but everyone knew what she was going to say anyway.
And it went on like that, parent after parent, at the podium, telling me thank you, thank you, thank you. Getting all choked up thinking about what could have happened. What they would have been grieving, if it wasn’t for me. But as I kept glancing at my face on the screen—it was unmissable—I never saw the pain leave my own eyes. All I could think about was the couple that was grieving, the one that had lost their baby. The mother who had hugged me when I told her what happened, who said she understood, it wasn’t my fault. The father who nodded his agreement, but who couldn’t look me in the eye because he was thinking the same thing I was. Why couldn’t you save her, magic man? You break the laws of physics all the time. Couldn’t you do this one little thing?
But doing one impossible thing doesn’t mean you can do them all. Gravity may mean nothing to me, but I’m not bulletproof. I can’t shoot lasers out of my eyes.
I can’t be two places at once.
Suddenly, the speeches were over, the crowd was roaring again. I realized I’d sunk quite a bit, and was now hovering just above the ground. Just at the level for the reporters to get at me. The first was a brunette woman with a mini sound recorder.
“Tiffany Starling, Canfield Gazette. In all the years you’ve served our city, Mr. Wonderkind, you’ve never come to any of your own celebrations before. Why this one? What has changed?”
She pointed the recorder at my mouth, waiting for my answer: I just looked at the faces around me. There was some naïve admiration and gratitude, but there was more curiosity, lust for gossip, hunger for scandal and fame.
“I understand a young woman, a Sandra Ellis, was killed on the other side of town around the same time you were saving the bus. There have been rumors that you were in a relationship with Miss Ellis. Is that true, and if so, how are you dealing with her loss?”
Their phones were raised; several steps away, but still in my face, thousands of eyes drinking me in, begging for juicy clips to become their tickets to viral success.
“Did you know she was in danger?” the reporter continued, taking my silence as confirmation. “How did you make the heart-wrenching decision to save the children?”
Heart-wrenching. What a sensationalist cliché. It was true, of course. Truer than anything ever was, but speaking it somehow cheapened my pain. My hand moved unconsciously to the pistol strapped to my leg. Camera phones flashed around me as the crowd took advantage of one of their favorite Wonderkind poses.
Only slightly discouraged by my failure to reply, the reporter tried again. “Seeing the hope and the joy and the…the gratitude all around you, right now, what are you feeling right at this moment?”
That question, I would answer. I drew my pistol.
I shot her in the face.