I was heading home from work when I saw it: a downtown intersection blocked off, emergency vehicles and bystanders spiraling out from it like a fallen pinwheel.
This is my new role, I told myself, repeatedly, trying to counter my anxiety. I have to drop in and find out what’s happening.
I came down without notice at the edge of the action and wormed my way through the crowd to the barricade. I was a row back from it when one of the police officers on the other side recognized me.
“Hey,” the officer said. He was a cinder block of a man with a tufted blonde mustache. “Flyboy, right?”
I nodded. The crowd turned its eyes on me. I was no longer a part of them, no longer just another ordinary onlooker observing this extraordinary event. I had become a part of the event. The crowd backed up to make room for me, whispering to one another.
“I’ve got a situation over here. Maybe you can help me out.” The officer puffed his chest out, proud that he’d found the solution, and gave a sideways grin to the officer beside him. “A lady on a ledge.” The officer turned to point her out ten stories up, outside the open window of an office building. The woman stood on the thin precipice looking up into the gray evening sky. She was still as a statue, even her brown hair and thin white dress motionless.
I ducked under the barricade to enter the fray, taking a deep breath to steady my nerves.
Then there were screams.
The woman was falling. I sprang from my crouched position on the pavement and began flying across the street towards the spot on the sidewalk she was bearing down on. Her dress billowed out and up around her legs. It looked like there were strings attached to it, ready to stop her plummet, yank her back up, and forgive her.
I was gliding over a police car, a button of my shirt clicking against the covering on the flashing blue and red lights, when the woman hit. She made a horrific wet smack on the cement.
I don’t know the crowd’s immediate reaction. After the sound of her striking the cement, I heard nothing. My shocked brain cut off all audio for a time, so disturbed was it by that smack.
Maybe a minute had passed, protracted, excruciating, when a large hand clutched my shoulder and shook me. I was still floating above the street. I turned around and touched down. A police officer was glaring at me. My hearing began to return, like water draining from my ears. He was shouting.
“What the fuck happened?” I realized that it was the same officer from the barricade. “You were supposed to catch her! Why the fuck were you moving so slow?”
“I was flying as fast as I could,” I think I said.
“You gotta be shitting me!” He threw his arms up and spun around, looking for someone to share his disbelief with.
“I tried. I really did.”
He returned to me. “What? Are you—?” He looked like he wanted to smash me with his massive fists. “What about that fire a couple weeks back? Huh? That guy jumping from his burning apartment? You were moving then!”
I knew that explaining things wouldn’t matter. Telling him that, unlike Superman, I wasn’t faster than a speeding bullet. That it’d been different with the man in the apartment building. I’d flown to the roof while the firemen were working, waiting and dreading that someone might have to jump. When the man did, I acted and, thankfully, caught him. Flying down I could get some decent speed, thanks to gravity. But going up, going straight—I couldn’t fly any faster than I could run. I’m fairly fast—I ran track in high school and won the 100m at a few meets. But even at a full-on sprint—plus some wind and a little luck—I’m traveling 15 mph tops. I was across the street, halfway down the block from the building the woman leapt from. I can defy some physics, but not all.
The police officer stormed off in disgust when I didn’t answer him.
I was ten feet from the woman. She was still again. I put my head down and thought about how this could have gone, how it should have gone, when I felt it: the crowd and police turning on me. I realized they’d been silent during my talk with the officer. Now they were roiling, the barricades scraping against the street. They’d seen my success on TV and compared it to what they’d just witnessed. They were coming to the same conclusion that the officer had, and they were shouting at me now. I needed to get out of there. I needed to lift off and head home. Let the air a few thousand feet up try and calm me. Let it try and help me understand that, no matter what power I now had, something like this could still happen.
But I can’t fly away, I thought to myself. Not now. Flying off in front of them all after what just happened would make me the villain.
I turned back to the woman. There were paramedics covering her with a sheet, preparing her for removal.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered.
Then I walked home.