New/Old Story: Death of a Hero
Slightly later than planned, but still as promised, below you will find one of my entries for the cancelled, flashstories.net April 2012 competition. It was originally written in 2010 and has not been posted or published previously.
Brief, irrelevant background note: I wrote this about a month and a half before I quit my last, full-time (real), job.
Death of a Hero
It’s Thursday & I’ve just killed a man.
His blood runs through my fingers, drip by crimson drop; the sound of its falling lost beneath the roar of the flames as the warehouse crumbles around us. I knew the floor wasn’t stable, I shouldn’t have ordered him further in, but the canisters were going to explode. Chemical combustion breeding fiery death. This is the reason I tell myself, for I am not a bitter man and I would never purposely endanger someone’s life, especially not that of a local hero.
Cinder filled smoke cloys and burns fiercely in my lungs. I must have lost my mask when I leapt down after him. Of course, I hadn’t meant to land on his neck with my non-regulation boots. But accidents happen.
Taking care to shield myself from the encroaching flames I pull the mask from his face, pausing only to wipe the inside before slipping it on. He’s bleeding black from his mouth now. In a funny way he looks like a child slipping into sugar coma bliss after drinking a bottle of maple syrup on a dare. Young, dumb and… gone.
With a violent jolt he awakes, gurgling and convulsing wildly, unable to escape, his body pinned beneath the rubble that used to be the ceiling I’d ordered him to fall through. He thrashes for a moment like a panicked fish in a net, the black blood glistening now with shades of burgundy and bile as he retches and chokes on the fumes mingling in his mouth with his own pathetic, leaking life essence.
As I watch him burn the heat from the inferno begins to sear my own skin, but I don’t care. This is my destiny, to be the tragic hero, the one who tried and failed through no fault of his own. There needs to be a balance in these things you see. Whereas this liar’s heroic deeds fell at the acknowledgeable end of the heroic scale, saving attractive women from a burning house where they had been imprisoned and violated by an unknown assailant; my, truly heroic, deed will pass unknown. To the rest of the world I will be defined as the man who tried to save a hero and paid a terrible price. Such a tragedy, the media will have a field day.
So I watch the decorated hero splutter his pitiful last. Just like that, I’ve killed the local hero and stolen his crown. Not because I am bitter man, but because the people deserve better than a sick, perverse scam artist. Justice had to be served.
I observe one final pillar of smoke escape his charred mouth before turning to emerge into the inevitable public mourning. As I pick my way through the debris I whisper quietly to his damned soul to let him know the reason he had to die, the reason I hadn’t just destroyed his reputation and turned him in to the police for his crimes.
‘That,’ I say, ‘that was for my wife.’