The Hero Rush
by Scott D. Coon
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
When I got to the fire, it was another tog-house. Surprise, surprise. As always, the scene was coordinated chaos. Ladders went up, water came down, and firefighters and EMT’s ran in all directions while the whole neighborhood watched.
I was the last to arrive. As I pulled up, I could feel everyone looking at me. Maybe it was just paranoia. I decided I’d gear up and jump in before anyone could stop me. At the other end of the chaos, Lt. McKinney and Lt. Everett were arguing in front of the Captain while all three of them threw glances my way. I dressed faster, hoping to outrun whatever decision they were making. My mask was all I had left to put on when George came to get me.
As I walked up to them, Everett was bitching about regulations and risk but McKinney was more sympathetic. “It’ll do him good,” insisted McKinney. “It’s only two weeks.”
Everett didn’t like that answer and he definitely didn’t like the looks of me. If I looked how I felt, then Everett had a point. Still, as soon as the Captain decided in my favor, I took George and took off.
Inside, smoke clogged the air while fire raged through the basement. We took the second floor and found a deadbolt on a splintering bedroom door. No question what we’d find in there. About to kick it in, I hesitated. I hesitated because I found myself too eager to get into that room and for the wrong reason. I don’t know where the urge came from, not after I’d been cursing the little monsters for months. But, standing outside that vault of toggers, I wanted to get in there and put one on me... I needed to.
Telling myself someone could be hurt in there, I kicked the door into shards. Smoke gushed out. A body lay at the center of the room, an adult male. Shelves lined the walls, all crowded with jar after jar of toggers, red and yellow. They hopped at me only to be knocked back by the thick glass. The ghost of that hallucinogenic haze crawled back over my brain; I wanted more and all I had to do was open a jar, any jar.
I had to focus. I put my eyes and my mind on the body in the middle of the room. He had no vitals. This guy was gone, I knew it, but I had to try... I had to focus on something... anything but the toggers. I put a respirator on the dead guy and pumped his heart.
George grabbed my arm. “He’s dead. We gotta get out of here.” His eyes shot back and forth, watching the toggers as if, at any moment, one would escape. “I’ll take him,” he ordered. “Let’s go!”
George took the body and left me in there alone. What happened next was not me. It was like watching myself on TV, doing something I did at another time, in another state of mind. My hand snatched a red togger and stuffed the jar into my empty respirator case. Part of me silently begged George to see the bulge. Another part of me kept me hunched over to shroud it within my gear.
Outside, the body was declared dead. Water flooded the basement; smoke poured out. My part was done. As I cut a casual beeline to my car, the Captain grabbed my shoulder. “You okay there, Franklin?”
Standing face-to-face with him, I imagined my eyes cartoonishly wide. “Yeah,” I said, pretending to be calm, “just glad to be back.” Don’t you see that my respirator case is full?!
He smiled. “Good. Sometimes you just need to get back in there.”
“It’s what I do,” I told him. “I save people.” I’m freaking out and you see none of it?! Stop me! “I wouldn’t know anything else.” I smiled.
He patted my back. “Just like me.”
Are you blind?! For the love of reason, how can a Captain not see the condition I’m in?!
“Look,” he continued. “You still have two weeks so it’s up to you if you want to respond until then, okay? Whatever you need. Toggers are no joke, you know.”
“I know.” I wanted to scream. “Thank you, Captain.”
I got out of there and got home but not without Dave catching me in the hall again. “Howdy, neighbor,” he sang out of nowhere.
“What?!” I barked, shocking even myself.
“Sorry,” said Dave, “didn’t mean to scare ya.”
“What, were you waiting for me or something?” My words came shrill and mean. It wasn’t me. Why was I acting like this?
“Nah, I can hear that ancient land yacht of yours ten blocks away, dude. You must be the last person in this building not in an electric. Time to upgrade... or at least get that dinosaur serviced.”
The healed puncture wounds between my shoulder blades began to itch. The togger called to me. Without a word, I walked away. Dave just watched, his gaze following me into my apartment.
Inside, I dropped my stuff and dug into my case, hoping the little monster would be dead. No such luck. Surrounded by my scattered gear, we sat and stared at each other, the togger and me, its tiny black eyes, so hungry, so evil. Kill it, I told myself, kill it now.
My right hand reached for the jar. I didn’t know what I would do. Would I free the monster or save myself? My left hand tightened around the lid. My right hand turned. I was going to let the togger out. It danced, its needles playing a happy song upon the glass floor. I paused. “Don’t do this,” I said aloud as if that would stop me. “What about Mom?” I added, firing a volley of guilt. But the lid was almost off... and I needed it!
A thud-thud-thud at my door ripped me from my internal war. “Hey, Superman,” yelled Dave, “open up.”
Scrambling, I hid the jar in the back of my closet and rushed back to the living room before the guilt hit me; hiding the togger in there with my t-shirts felt like spitting on a soldier’s grave... but no time for reverence now.
I stopped short of opening the door. “What do you want?” I called to Dave.
“I need to borrow a cup of sugar.”
“Just open the door, dude.”
There was a pause. “Because that’s what Superman would do.”
I yanked the door wide and barked, “What?!”
Dave ducked under my arm, strolled across my living room, and plopped himself on the couch. “What’s up?”
“Nothing!” The sound of my own anger startled me but I didn’t stop it. “Why are you here?!”
“Whoa, what, you run into some red kryptonite or something?”
“Leave, I need to...” I said, still searching for a reason to get him out of there.
“Open that jar?”
I glared at him. Dave just smiled back.
“You think I don’t know when someone’s holding?” said Dave. “I was in the dorms like last year, you know. So, Franklin, is it a red or a yellow?”
I said nothing as I stared at him, both furious and thankful, thankful that he stopped me from opening that jar... for now. That’s when the alarm went off. I grabbed my gear and shoved us both out the door. Then I fled down the stairs, running away from the togger and away from Dave.
* * *
I pulled up as the streetlights came on. This was the second tog-house in twelve hours. Cops were everywhere. This was no accident. Whispers carried the news around the truck; another turf war had started. This could go on for days, one fire after another.
No one stopped me as I hurried into my ill-packed gear. I wanted to go in alone but not to get a togger; one was already too many. I had to go in alone because, with my mind on the monster in my closet, I could get someone killed and I wasn’t about to let that happen.
There was a side door on the half-rotted, two-story house. I kicked it in. Another basement fire filled the house with smoke. I groped through the darkness with no plan, no direction. It was like I was one of the victims instead of the rescuers.
George yelled from somewhere up on the second floor. It sounded like fear. A pop rang out. A gun? I ran up. Barry retreated past me through the smoke. Blood poured between his fingers as he held his shoulder. Pressing on, I found George, his hands held high as he begged a whacked-out druggie to drop the gun or at least drop the kid. A red togger hung off the skeletonized tog-head, half-dead but still strong enough to swing a six-year-old boy like a shield while stabbing his gun at targets both real and imagined.
I charged, drawing the gun to me. Before the tog-head could fire, I foamed him right in the face. He dropped the kid and dropped the gun. George grabbed the kid. I grabbed the gun and chucked it out the window. The junkie fled into a room full of free-running yellows and shut the door.
“Get the kid out of here,” I ordered George. “I’m going to get him.”
“You’ll never get that psycho out of there,” insisted George.
“I have to try,” I said. It’s what Superman would do.
George frowned but, with the kid on his hands, he couldn’t stop me. Little Franklin was going to be a superhero again. As George retreated, I kicked the door off its hinges. An army of yellows skittered toward me, their long shadows dancing with the sway of the spotlights outside. I swept them into the walls, killing as many as I could as quickly as I could. Somewhere in there was a victim, a victim like me, and I was going to get him out of there.
I kicked and stomped my way across the room to the walk-in closet. The tog-head cringed in the corner, quivering, his eyes glazed. One red and three yellows clung to his back. I ripped them off and crushed them under my boot.
More toggers gathered at the door. I threw the destroyed tog-head over my shoulder and went to town on the little monsters. I crushed and kicked and stomped, turning the closet into a togger horror show. I wanted to stay there and crush each and every one but the tog-head needed help.
I ran at the window shoulder first, dropping each step on another togger. We smashed through the glass and landed in the thick hedges below. Two EMT’s rushed the tog-head into a truck. While another one was checking me out, the guys gathered around, cracking jokes about whether or not I could fly. If only they knew what I had in my closet at home.
As soon as the EMT cleared me, I was out of there. All the way back to my apartment, the togger in my brain told me I’d slip past Dave’s door. I’d walk in quietly and not answer any knocking. I didn’t know if I would listen to that voice when I reached the top of those stairs or if I’d hang onto the real me, the me that pulled that man out of that fire.
* * *
I found myself standing in my kitchen, the togger dancing out its happy song on the glass floor of its jar. I unscrewed the lid. The red monster jumped out and skittered across the linoleum, eager to get its fangs into me. It lunged only to be crushed by the sole of my boot.
Dave clapped. “That’s a good first step but I’ll be staying here tonight, all the same,” he said. “Don’t want you wandering off looking for toggers.”
That night, we watched my set of the cartoon series from the nineteen-nineties, one of the best. The urges came. More than once, I devolved into a ranting maniac. Sometimes I just shook. No matter how crazy I got, Dave stayed with me.
In the morning he told me, “This ain’t over, you know? I went through this with my roommate’s friend back in the dorms. You’ll be having a few more nights like this before you’re clear... But have no fear. I got me all kinds of the old, good stuff. I even have some Kirk Alyn.” He patted my shoulder. “You’ll be okay. Now, go call your mother.”
Dave was right, I would be okay and I knew it. It would be hard but I was going to get through it... because that’s what Superman would do.
Copyright © 2011 by Scott D. Coon