365 Days Ago
In my dreams, in my plans, in my childish little imagination, I had pictured the moment that I fell from the building only to be swept into the powerful, strong arms of the world’s most powerful superhero. After all, the movies made it look easy. Some screaming, and who wouldn’t scream at that point, and then you were nestled perfectly safely against a perfectly sculpted chest. Surely that was worth a couple seconds of terror, right? There was more potential danger just by going onto some amusement park rides. The Colossus of Fear rollercoaster didn’t come equipped with a man that could fly up and catch you if anything went wrong.
Or so I kept telling myself when I came up with this brilliant scheme. No problem. Fall for a few seconds and then sweet, blessed relief.
In reality, I’m sure I didn’t fall for that long. Maybe a few seconds. But here’s the thing. You can fall a long way in only a few seconds. Pick up a ball and hold it above your head, high as you can. Then drop it in front of yourself. See how long it took that ball to hit the ground? Most likely less than a second. So round up to one second to fall roughly six feet from a dead stop. Physics majors out there are already sharpening their knives to cut out my liver, so I should probably add that this is not a scientific method by any stretch of the imagination. That’s something like nine point eight meters per second squared or some such. I just want to give you the right general idea. In four seconds, I fell a lot further than I had thought about.
I also screamed a lot more than I’d planned on. In my daydreams, a single cry of my hero’s name had brought a rush of wind and then his arms around me. Crisis over, he would hold me a bit longer than he strictly had to. His eyes would find mine…
But that was a sick, childish fantasy. This was reality, and as I fell, I realized for the first time that I might die. I might never see Aldridge or Gesmine again, or my parents. I could really, truly die.
My screams tangled in my throat, caught in the rush of my sobs. I didn’t want to die. Please. Oh god please don’t let me die. I’d never do something that stupid again. I’d take any punishment they wanted to give me. I’d pay a fine, go to some correctional school, anything. I’d do anything, just don’t let me die.
It would not be the last time, nor the worst, that I wished for a time machine. Sadly, I remained DeLoreanless.
My mistake, my idiocy, would be etched upon the pavement, for an eternity in my soul, for a few hours until the street cleaners hosed my moronic self down the gutter in reality.
I was going to die.
At least, I would have, had the very man that I had been so stupidly obsessed with that I nearly killed myself simply to get close to him not caught me just as I gave up all hope. Paragon was just as heroic, just as fast, and just as gentle as I had imagined. Not that his being what I dreamed excused my own stupidity, of course, but props where they belonged on his part.
The arms of the most powerful man in the world slipped around me, and we continued to fall for several seconds until he had slowed our momentum gently enough that my neck wouldn’t instantly snap. We did a sort of loop like you might find on a rollercoaster, rising higher to the top of the building I had just fallen from. I honestly think that he was trying to see what or who had pushed me off the building to begin with.
The man was saying something, but my brain had completely shut off when his arms had closed around me. Not that there’s overwhelming evidence that it had been working prior to that moment either, to be honest.
We landed on the roof, and he turned me to face him. His deep, forest green eyes were full of concern as he repeated his question, “Are you all right? Can you tell me what happened?”
I wanted to answer. Really, I did. But all I could think about was that for the first and probably only time in my life (God do I know the truth of that now), Paragon was looking at me. He was focused on me. He was worried about me. His broad shoulders, that shoulder length blonde hair, the beautiful green eyes, I was able to see all of it right up close and in person.
“I…” That was as far as I got before my throat closed up and I felt sick. The world spun around me and I nearly collapsed. I would have collapsed, if his hands hadn’t quickly caught my shoulders.
Paragon was holding me up. The look of concern in his eyes had doubled, and he lifted me off the ground. He just lifted me up like I was little more than a doll. “You’re going to be okay,” he assured me, clearly having decided that I was in shock. “Here, sit down for a minute and catch your breath. Don’t try to stand yet.”
Before I realized what was happening, the great man had set me down, as gently as possible, on a couple of wooden pallets that had been stacked up. My back was to the air conditioning unit. He smiled reassuringly while I gaped up at him like the grand fool that I was. “Can you tell me your name?”
No, I wasn’t quite that stupid at the time. The voice wasn’t mine, and nor was it his. I recognized the voice, but I couldn’t place where from at first. There was a slightly muffled component to it.
“Whiplash.” Paragon said with clear surprise. “What are you doing up here?”
Finally I knew who had joined us on the roof. It was Whiplash, the masked girl that happened to be the fastest person on the planet. Some part of me had always suspected that she was my main rival for Paragon’s affections. Don’t ask, in the mind of the obsessed, such things make sense. For all I knew, underneath that green and black mask, she was Paragon’s daughter. Okay, maybe sister. He wasn’t quite that old, obviously.
“I wanted to make sure everything was okay.” The voice came again, from slightly closer. “It is okay, right? What happened? Where’s the girl?” Apparently she hadn’t seen me as I sat behind the air conditioner to my idol’s left. “The police want to talk to her.”
As with everything about the man, Paragon’s peripheral vision was perfect. He clearly saw the look of absolute panic in my eyes, though he never looked my way. “Do they?” His voice was the picture of innocence. “I’m sorry; I put her down in the alley. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to bring her all the way back up to the place she fell off of.”
Understandable enough. But I was still about to speak up, not wanting my perfect Paragon to sully himself by lying for me, when the girl spoke again. “Oh, thank god. I didn’t want even more blood on my hands.”
As perfect as he was, it still took even the world’s greatest superhero a moment to comprehend that. His voice was tinged with confusion as he blinked, “What?”
Whiplash isn’t called the fastest person, not just the fastest girl, but the fastest person on the planet just as hyperbole. In spite of all of his powers, even though he was looking right at her the entire time, Paragon never had a chance. Maybe if he’d seen her for the enemy that she was instead of the trusted ally that he thought her to be, he could have done something. Even then, I’m not positive that he could have stopped her.
The knife that plunged into Paragon’s chest seemed to materialize out of thin air. The blade was violet tinged with white, and the dark green gloved hand attached to the bone hilt clearly belonged to the girl who had been his teenaged ally for years.
For just a moment, life was frozen that way. Paragon’s eyes were as wide and shocked as I’m sure mine were, and the gloved hand that held the knife, attached to a thin arm that was all I could see from my vantage point, remained firmly on the knife.
As with all things, Whiplash was the first to act after the moment of still silence. Her arm was a blur that no human eye had a chance of following, as she stabbed the great man again, and again, and again. All told, the media reported that Paragon had been stabbed thirty seven times. The reporters that analyzed those secret moments in the weeks following this tragedy all claimed that the attack must have taken between ten and fifteen seconds. I can tell you right now that it took only two.
Paragon’s once crisp white uniform, a testament to the civility and perfection that he stood for, was soaked through with his own blood. He’d barely had a chance to realize that he was under attack before it was too late. Completely and utterly too late. Betrayed by one of his own, by another hero.
This was wrong. This was all completely wrong. It couldn’t be happening. Only my utter disbelief, combined with my shock, saved my life then. Paragon was the most powerful, most amazing, strongest superhero the world had ever known. He couldn’t simply be stabbed to death. Bullets, hell, rockets and missiles did nothing to the man. His biggest worry upon being shot at was whether the round would ricochet away and hurt someone else. A knife? No. Never. He could never be hurt, let alone killed, by a simple knife.
My hand had covered my mouth as I stared in horror. The bile that rose in my throat was almost pushed aside by my scream. It was only through some miracle that I do not understand to this day that I managed to remain silent.
“Confused?” The mask-muffled voice asked with more than a hint of smug superiority as the great man fell to his knees before her. For a horrible, terrifying moment, I thought she was speaking to me. But her focus was fully and completely on the man, the legend, that she was in the middle of murdering. “Magic. Yeah I know, cliché. Anytime something doesn’t make sense, explain it away with magic.” That purple blade was drawn back and then thrust one more time, drawing a horrible, pained grunt from the already blood-soaked man. “This time it’s true. The knife is magic. Should I tell you how it’s magic?”
Paragon brought his hand up. I think he was trying to punch the girl, or at least shove her. But by that point, he could barely lift his arm. He was kneeling there, every last ounce of his strength relegated to keeping himself conscious and upright. The punch, if that’s what it was, missed by a mile and Whiplash just laughed. She continued to speak as if nothing had happened. “It’s magic because it can steal your power, you pathetic stain…” Withdrawing the blade, she shook it out to the side.
Some of the blood, some of his blood, sprayed off the knife as she shook it demonstratively. The wet, sticky liquid splattered across the side of my face. I hadn’t lost my mind and started shrieking like a banshee when Paragon was first stabbed, but this nearly broke me entirely. My eyes were full of tears that half blinded me, and the man’s blood was on my face.
I wanted to stop her. I swear, to all that has ever existed or been said to exist, I wanted to. I wanted to scream for her to stop. I wanted to run into her and knock her off that building. I wanted to save the man that I idolized. More than anything, I wanted to stop this from happening.
But I was too afraid.
“It steals your power.” the smug voice repeated as Whiplash brought the blade up between them once more, “and makes you weak.” I could see her better by then. She looked just the same as always. There was nothing to give away her complete and total betrayal. The full face mask that obscured all of her features was dark green, highlighted with black accents, along with black eye concealing lenses, looked the same as it did in all the photographs and footage that I had ever seen of the girl working side by side with the man she had just fatally wounded.
“I had a friend make it for me,” that muffled voice bragged, content in her superiority over the great man. “It took a little convincing, but I can be very persuasive. Now, your power is going to be mine. I’ll be the one that everyone loves. I’ll be the one they adore. I’ll be the one that stupid, silly little children have crushes on.”
Okay, one, that was a low blow. Not that I didn’t deserve it at the time, but still. Ouch. And two, why in the world would she use idiots like me having crushes as a positive? Was Whiplash, who clearly had a massive following all of her own if the things I’d heard boys say about her were any indication, really jealous of Paragon? Jealous enough to spawn a betrayal like this? This was insane. She was insane.
“And you can die an insignificant footnote.” She snarled and shoved him backwards.
The last thing that Paragon said was, “Hide.”
“Oh I’ll have nothing to hide from anymore. Not after this.” The one-time superhero boasted. “I’ll have your power. Nothing is ever going to hurt me now.”
But I knew the truth. I knew that the man hadn’t been talking to her. He had been talking to me, warning me. He was dying. He had no hope, and was losing the last little bit of strength that he had still been clinging to. And yet, it was still so important to him to save others that he had prompted me to hide, to get out of her sight. Because all this crazy bitch had to do was turn her head slightly and I’d be in her view. He was still trying to save me.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I managed to make myself move. As silently as possible, feeling like the worst human being who has ever lived, I slid around to the other side of the air conditioning unit.
I hid. I hid myself away and watched while the greatest superhero in the world was dying. I was a coward, a pathetic, useless coward. I’m sorry that this story that I tell is not one of the true hero, but of the girl who survived by hiding while the hero died. All of the things I’ve done in this year, everything I’ve tried to do to make up for that day, are nothing. I will never, ever erase my mistakes and my cowardice.
The truth of that was cemented forever into my mind as the girl lifted her leg. Resting her foot against the man’s shoulder, she gave him an utterly contemptuous snort before shoving hard. Weak as he was in that moment, the man who once had the strength to lift a tanker truck with one hand was pitched over backwards into thin air. His powers had been stolen, and he was about to fall to his death, the very same fall that he had just minutes earlier saved me from.
He fell out of sight. He was gone. My hero. My idol. I couldn’t hear the screams from up where we were, but I could easily imagine them. I knew the scene even before I saw it repeated over and over on the news for so many weeks afterward as the media latched onto the tragedy and proceeded to suck any real meaning out of it. I saw it play out in my own mind behind closed eyes as I drew back into a ball and shook violently, fighting the urge to throw up. My revulsion and my terror were physical things by then, each nearly giving me away. I hugged myself and tried not to sob, as the girl I had once seen as a hero looked impassively over the side of the building.
“Good enough.” She said to herself, before lifting the knife. “Now, let’s get you home, shall we?” I could hear the smile in her voice as she lifted the bloodied blade to examine it. Reaching up, the girl tugged the green mask off and kissed the blood on the blade before turning to walk back toward the roof entrance.
She only walked for three steps before vanishing from sight, running so quickly that all I saw was a blur of motion.
But those three steps had been enough to change my life even more than the long, torturous moments before that had. Because they brought her unmasked profile into view. Those three steps exposed the murderer of the world’s most beloved superhero and champion to my view, unmasked and exposed.
The view at that distance was good enough that I could have picked her out of a lineup for the authorities.
Or I simply could have taken out my phone and texted her.
Gesmine. My second best friend after Aldridge.
At least now I knew why she’d said she’d be late to study.