Death of a Hero

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Image by Neil McIntosh

Image by Neil McIntosh

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.

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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16 Comments

  1. Wow Stephanie! That was fantastic! I absolutely loved the character work–the intricacy you gave your main character added so many more dimensions to the piece. Thanks so much for showing us how you work your craft!

    Evan

    • Thank you! I’m so glad you liked it. I got the idea for this story awhile ago and it was the first one to pop into my head after you challenged me to post more of my own work. It’s a bit darker than I typically like to write, but I enjoyed it.

  2. I love your writing. You know exactly how to shackle us to every word. I always know something’s great when I reach the end and the noises of my surroundings come back into my ears. To be so drawn in that everything else goes away–that’s something.

    It’s kind of frustrating though, because all it does is make me want to read something full-length from you. Like a novel. Is it done yet? (You don’t need to answer that. lol)

    • Wow. I don’t know that I’ve ever given anyone “tunnel vision” before. I’m honored!

      Yeah, well, as I’m sure you know, it’s a lot harder to write something full length than to dash out one of these babies. So don’t expect that a novel would be as good as this. Progress, though! I am making progress. : )

  3. Whoa, I was not expecting that ending!

    I have really missed reading your work!

    • Yay! Good to know I’m not totally predictable after all these years (then again, how evil will I have to get to keep surprising you???). XD

  4. The relation between the title and the final line. Wow. You built the emotions really well. I’m half horrified and half on the narrator’s side.

    • Thanks! You always notice the special parts I want people to notice. : )

      And I know what you mean. I’m kind of disturbed that I wrote it. Do I need a shrink???

      • I’m glad! You do the same thing when you comment on my writing. I love it! Speaking of which, I will get back to e-mail soon. It just keeps piling up. 🙁

        You don’t need a shrink more than the rest of us writers. I’m not sure that’s the same thing as not needing one, though. 😉

        • Hahaha. Somebody needs to make a TV series (or something – I’ve considered a YouTube series) on writers in therapy. I envisioned an asylum/rehab center specifically for writers. It would be hilarious…they’d always be talking to their counselors about how many people they’ve killed, and how they enjoyed it. And how they’re upset that they enjoyed it. Of course there would be something much more sinister going on in the background.

          Yay! I was wondering when I was going to get another chapter. I’ll be looking for it.

  5. Stark, surprising, very well written, it pulled me along and carried me to the end. I liked it. The end was shocking, but you did foreshadow it with the title. I’d like to read more, though I’m not sure this has more. Such a rule breaker as well. 😉

    Ray

    • That’s me, rebel to the end. *cough* I feel like Wonderkind goes on to be a villain, then maybe finds redemption somehow, but I don’t know any details. Perhaps one day he will whisper in my ear again and you’ll get a part two.

      I’m really glad you liked it – thank you!

  6. It is an advantage for a writer to be schizophrenic. It offers so many inside views for characters. It is also definitely advantageous to be crazy so writing can not drive you crazy.

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