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Not a Superhero

Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

The local news media are calling me a superhero, but I'm no such thing. Sure, I run around the city at night watching for the unexpected, the overlooked, the ignored. But I don't have any superpowers. I don't even have a Batmobile. I work from 5:00 AM to 1:30 PM at a McDonald's drive-through and sleep until 10:00 PM. The rest of the time, I'm on the streets.

At first, I did simple things like saving a cat from being mauled by a dog. I even rescued a rat from a cat. Not sure why. But I have always been for the underdog or under-rat. Then I stepped up my game. Now I find whores lying beaten up in alleys, drunks under bridges. I do what I can. Sometimes I get them help. But help is hard to come by for these people.

One time, I wandered down a random alley. As I walked deeper into the darkness, I began to hear sobs and moans that turned into a cry that shattered the relative quiet between the high walls. It was the voice of a young woman. No! it was the cry of a girl! What was happening? Scenes ran through my mind like a video on fast-forward. I could imagine her being raped or murdered, but reality hit me so hard, I wanted to run the other way.

She couldn't have been more than 14 or 15 years old. She was squatting with a newborn baby lying on the dirty bricks at her feet, not moving. I wanted to be anyplace else at that moment. But I was there. I was the only person to see this horrific sight.

All I knew was that newborns needed to have their mouths and noses cleared so they could breathe. Where had I heard they used suction bulbs to draw the mucous out? But I had no suction bulb. Almost instinctively, I lowered my mouth to the infant's nose and then to her mouth. I sucked the mucous out, and she began to cry. Then we were off to the emergency room, the baby under one of my arms and the mother under the other.

That was the most eventful and emotional night of my life until last night.

I was wandering aimlessly, as usual, letting the experiences find me. Faux gas lanterns lighted the way along the riverwalk that climbed while the river fell away into darkness. I could see the bridge ahead where it spanned the river, lights reflecting off the rippled water.

I turned onto the bridge and stopped at the highest part of the arc. I looked down to where moonlight caught the tops of the ripples like electricity arcing across the water. Why did I spend my time alone watching the melodrama of the city streets? I could be out with friends. I'd have to make some first, though. I could be out with a lovely young lady for the evening, but I'd have to meet her first.

not-a-superhero

Then I heard someone sniff. To my right was a young man, about my age. Tears ran down his cheeks. Snot hung from his nose. I looked up at him, not because he was tall, but because he was standing on the railing.

My belly felt like it was full of ice. Fear gripped me. I wanted to run. The man looked at me, forehead wrinkled, eyes squinting, teeth bared. He was angry.

"Go away!" he cried.

I wanted to do just that, but something inside me was unwilling to leave him standing on the railing of a bridge with 50 meters between him and the water.

"Sorry, I can't do that."

"This is none of your business. Leave, now!"

Without answering, I climbed up and stood on the railing about fifteen feet from him, swaying as I tried to keep my balance.

"What are you doing?" His voice shook with emotion.

"Well," I said. "The fall isn't going to kill you. But You will probably drown." I paused, letting this sink in. "I'm jumping with you so I can pull your ass to shore."

"Nobody would do that."

"Believe what you want, but you won't die tonight."

not-a-superhero

He jumped.

I have to admit, I was surprised. I thought I would have more time to change his mind. But I've learned to be flexible.

I jumped too.

He hit the water feet first a couple of seconds before me, which allowed me to plan my next move. Of course, traveling at 70 miles per hour and hitting water was distracting. It took me a few seconds to come back to the surface and find him. He was flailing about like someone who actually wanted to live. I thought he probably did want to live at that point, so I swam toward him.

When he saw me, he lunged in my direction. I had taken a lifesaving course a few years earlier and immediately went under. I grabbed his body, turned him away from me, then surfaced. I put my arm around his neck and began stroking backward toward the shore.

He was shouting at me.

"You had no right!"

"You don't seem to be fighting too hard."

Instead of arguing, he began to weep. A few minutes later, we climbed out of the water onto the boardwalk. I called for an ambulance, and we waited in silence.

The next afternoon, I returned to the river. I walked upstream then turned back and walked downstream, under the bridge. Not far from where we had entered the water, the river bottom rose to less than three feet from the surface. We could both have died so easily.

I don't know his story. I have no idea if I did him a favor or an injustice. But I do know this. I did nothing more than give him a chance to have a second thought.

I am not a superhero.

© 2021 Chris Mills