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The Hero Experience - Chapter 12

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 20, 2015 11:15 am    Post subject: The Hero Experience - Chapter 12 Reply with quote


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Chapter 12

Beware the full moon. If affects both werewolves and superheroes.

I encountered very little resistance to the suggestion that we ride out as the Bowmen again. Apparently the other guys were really beginning to enjoy our little escapades. And so, despite Carl’s formerly stated inability to get our Jeep (note the possessive term our Jeep), Wednesday night we headed downtown. It was 8:30 on a lovely summer evening, in spite of an afternoon of thunderstorm. The freshly scrubbed blue sky still held traces of the dwindling sunlight.

Just for the record, the Bowmen always checked the weather forecast before embarking to fight crime. This lesson was learned from our muddy adventure with our arch enemy, the Eviction Master. Chalk up another startling true-life fact that is always glossed over by the comic books. Did Flash ever check on road conditions before he went speeding around looking for outlaws? Did Green Arrow ever have to go back home and put on his long johns after discovering it was colder than he thought? Did Green Lantern ever get beat up while flying through a hailstorm?

My goodness, this was certainly turning out to be an educational summer.
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“Hold it!” barked Carl. He leaned forward in the front seat to turn up the police band radio on the dash. The dispatcher told a patrol unit to check out a reported case of vandalism, still in progress. The location was fairly close to us, and we waited for the police unit to answer.

Unit 41 to dispatch. Is this a Code 2? (Is it urgent?) I just pulled over an 11-95 on University Avenue. (A routine traffic stop.)

Negative, 41. Unit 18 will be 10-8 in about five minutes. He’ll check on it. Dispatch out.

“Man, that’s what I call luck!” bellowed Doug. The Jeep surged forward as Carl punched the gas.

“Suit up, Bowmen!” I announced. Next to Stan in the backseat, Doug put on his mask. I wrapped my own around my head and fastened the Velcro in back. The eyeholes weren’t quite right, so I twisted it a bit until I could see the road ahead. Carl lifted one knee to steady the steering wheel while he plucked his mask from the seat next to him and donned it in a smooth motion that took less than five seconds.

“I hope this one is as easy as it sounds,” said Stan as he quickly turned his mask over after putting it on upside down.

“We can handle it,” Doug said glibly. Stan and I exchanged grinning glances of surprise. Was Doug turning into an optimist?

We were all feeling very cocky and confident. Life was good.

And then it happened. The world exploded right in front of us.

Fifteen cars ahead of the Jeep was a white Cadillac that tried to change lanes without seeing the dark green Comet slightly behind it on the left. The side-to-side collision shoved the rear of the Cadillac to the right and sent it screaming along sideways at sixty miles an hour. The Comet, now directly behind the Cadillac, slammed into its driver-side door, tires shrieking and filling the air with white smoke.

Behind the Cadillac and the Comet, the driver of a red truck slammed on his brakes, but he still torpedoed the rear of the Comet and knocked it sideways into the left lane. A station wagon behind them both made a desperate attempt to dodge around the wrecked cars on the right side, but instead it slammed into the guardrail and sent a shower of sparks that trailed twenty-five feet in its wake. The metal-on-metal friction produced a sound like a dying dinosaur as the station wagon was brought to a halt right next to the sideways Cadillac in the middle of the road.

What followed an instant later was a symphony of thunder and smoke and screeching metal. A dozen cars destroyed each other in various ways — and we were the four wide-eyed spectators with a ringside seat to an automotive Armageddon.

Carl had hit the brakes the moment he saw the first two cars collide, but he was keenly aware that if he tried to stop too quickly the car behind us would try to climb into the back of the Jeep where the bows were stored. He glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the car behind him race toward the rear of the Jeep with white smoke trailing behind it and the wailing sound of rubber against asphalt.

The car ahead of the Jeep managed to stop before it merged its grill with the rear of a wrecked vehicle. Carl was gritting his teeth as he worked the brake pedal carefully to prevent the tires from locking up. He watched the front of the Jeep rush toward the back of the vehicle ahead. We came to a stop within inches of the car's rear bumper.

I twisted in my seat to see if the car behind would stop in time. For two whole seconds, I was convinced we were about to get a smack in the rear with all the force of Thor’s hammer. But no — the car behind us came to a noisy stop so close to our back bumper I was convinced it was actually touching the Jeep.

After all the noise abruptly ceased, the silence was shocking. The war zone ahead of us was hazy with smoke from tortured rubber — and from another source as well. Smoke was pouring from under the hood of a long, black sedan resting sideways in the middle of the highway, fifty feet away. The door had sprung open, but the driver was slumped over the steering wheel, motionless. Stan saw it too, and he lunged forward to point across the front seat.

“That car is on fire! It’s on fire, and the driver is still in it!”

Carl turned and spoke quickly to Stan. “Get the fire extinguisher from the back!" He shoved his door open and leaped from the Jeep.

Stan twisted around and lunged halfway over the rear seat to grab the extinguisher. Doug and I opened our doors and scrambled out with more haste than grace. Carl was already sprinting toward the burning vehicle and we followed him as fast as we could. The smoke from under the burning car’s hood was getting thicker. As we got closer we saw that the driver was a portly woman, and she still hadn’t moved. She lay against the steering wheel while her left arm hung at her side.

When Carl reached the car he shouted, “Get her out of there! Hurry!” He squatted down and desperately tried to find the release handle for the hood. Stan rushed up next to him and stood ready with the CO2 extinguisher.

“Maybe we shouldn’t move her,” said Doug, “What if her neck is — ”

Stan shouted to us from the front of the car. “She’ll burn if you don’t get her out!”.

Carl had located the release handle under the hood, but when he grabbed it he yelped with pain and yanked his hand back. “Damn, it’s hot as hell!”

Doug and I leaped toward the trapped woman and started trying to pull her from the burning vehicle. The air was thick with hot, acrid smoke that stung our eyes.

“Push the seat back,” Doug said in a voice made hoarse by the toxic air. He grabbed the seat adjustment handle and pulled on it as I shoved the seat backward as hard as I could. It only went back about six inches, but it gave us more room to get a grip on the unconscious woman.

At the front of the car, Carl clenched his teeth and made himself grab the hot release handle and yank it. The slightly warped hood popped up a few inches. Stan turned the fire extinguisher around and placed the flat bottom against the edge of the hood. He forced the hood upward while the twisted hinges protested with metallic wails. Smoke billowed out toward his face. Flames leaped up from the smoke and roasted the underside of the hood.

Carl stepped back while Stan squatted down to protect his face from the heat and smoke while he held the extinguisher as high as he could. He aimed the extinguisher at the engine and pressed the trigger. The white mist of the CO2 merged with the smoke, but the inferno seemed to be gobbling it up with no affect.

Doug and I had finally gotten an effective but undignified hold on the large lady, and we were trying to pry her out of the car before all five of us died from the smoke and flames. We yanked and we pulled and we heaved — until suddenly the woman tumbled free and almost took the three of us right down to the pavement. Doug and I scrambled for a new grip we could use to drag her away from the blazing car. Doug wrapped both arms around her torso from behind, barely managing to clasp his hands beneath the woman’s ample bosom. Her feet dragged the ground as he wrestled her far enough from the car for me to step between her legs, grab her beneath her knees, and heave like Big John did when he saved the trapped coal miners.

Somehow we lifted the woman and started waddling along as we retreated from the fire. I could feel the heat on the back of my neck as we lugged the poor woman to a safe distance before easing her to the ground with as much grace as we could manage, which wasn’t much.

The woman had a bloody gash on her forehead. I dug into my pocket, found my handkerchief, and pressed if over the cut. The blood had already begun to clot, but the skin around it was beginning to swell and bruise. I lifted her head gently and placed the handkerchief between it and the hard pavement.

Doug was trying to a find a pulse in the woman’s plump wrist, but there was too much soft flesh between his fingers and the vein he was looking for.

“Brad, I think she’s dead.”

As soon as he said it, the woman started to moan softly and roll her head back and forth slowly.

A middle-aged man in a dark blue business suit rushed up and knelt by the woman, gazing at her pale face intently. “Let me look at her. I’m a doctor.” He paused, then he added, “Well, a dentist, actually.” He thumbed open one of her eyes and studied her pupils for a moment. Then he put two fingers against the side of her throat and pressed hard, searching for a pulse. His fingers sank deep into the pudgy flesh, but after a moment he smiled.

“Her pulse is strong. You saved her life by getting her out of that car.” He looked at my face for the first time, and his smile vanished in a look of confusion. “Why are you wearing a mask?” He looked over at Doug. “Why . . . why are you both wearing those masks?”

I was shocked by his words. My right hand floated up to my temple and touched the fabric of the mask. I looked over at Doug. He was obviously just as stunned while he stared back at me as if weeds had just sprouted from my ears. We had gotten used to seeing each other wearing the masks during the last few weeks, and we had been so completely focused on our desperate efforts to save the poor woman that we hadn't even thought about removing them.

I looked back at the man and couldn’t think of a single intelligent thing to say. What could I tell him? That we were burglars on our way home from work?

Carl and Stan walked up and looked at the semiconscious lady for a moment. The fire extinguisher dangled from Stan’s left hand.

“Is she alive?” said Carl.

“Yes. This guy is a doctor and he says her pulse is okay.” I looked over at the man, and he was gaping at the four us in total confusion. I wondered if he was thinking he should raise his hands and give us his wallet. I looked back at Carl and pointed silently to my mask.

Carl nodded as he spoke in a bleak voice. “I know. We goofed. The heat of the moment, I guess — no pun intended.”

“Should we take them off before anybody else notices?” Doug said in a barely audible voice.

Stan started giggling. “What?” He looked at Doug the way dog lovers look at stray cats. “Why bother now? I think we’re the last ones to notice.”

I stood up and glanced around. Other folks who had left their cars were helping the injured people. Many of them were looking over at us and talking in low voices. Stan was right. It was too late. If we could just get out of here before the police arrived, we might avoid an embarrassing arrest, a lengthy trial, large legal fees, and our entire senior year of high school spent behind bars. Unfortunately, our trusty Jeep was sandwiched between two cars with about as much clearance between them as the part in my hair. We were stuck here, forced to wait for the long arm of the law to reach out and grab us.

The area was still thick with smoke from the burning car and the steam from a half-dozen ruptured radiators. Smoke was still drifting up from the open hood of the car that had been on fire, but I didn’t see any flames.

“You guys got the fire out?” I ask Stan and Carl.

“Yep,” said Stan. “The extinguisher finally gave out, so Carl and I had to spit on it until the last of the flames were gone.” Stan paused and then said. “I could really go for a beer right now.” He grinned at me. I was tempted to slap him.

“Seriously, guys, I guess we should take these things off now." I reached up to remove my mask, but Carl stopped me.

“Leave it on. There are still people who need help, and maybe some of these folks can be character witnesses at our trial.”

Stan nodded and gave Carl a lopsided grin. “Yep, that’s about all we’ve got left.“ He looked around at each of us. “Come on, guys, there are people all around us with much worse problems than ours.”

Stan turned toward a man sitting against the guardrail on the right side of the highway, holding his bleeding left leg in both hands. Carl saw an elderly woman holding her injured right arm as she hobbled like a broken bug toward the road's left shoulder. He rushed to her side, put his arm around her, and kept her from falling as they made their way carefully to the side of the freeway.

Doug looked around and then headed toward a young mother who held the hands of two small children. All three of them looked lost, afraid, and alone. The kids were crying. I knew Doug wanted to offer comfort and assistance to the woman and her kids — in spite of the fact that he looked like a bank robber.

The whole area looked like a war had rolled by and smashed everything in sight. There was a great deal of moaning, crying, and bleeding.

I heard footsteps behind me and turned to see a man who had wandered around the end of a smashed Lincoln Continental. He was holding his stomach and shivering as if he was freezing.

“Are you okay, sir?” I said, then I realized how dumb the question sounded. The man stared at my mask-covered face for a dazed moment and then replied haltingly, “I’m . . . okay. I’m just so . . . cold.”

The man was obviously in shock. He didn't even comment on the mask. He probably had internal injuries he wasn’t even aware of. I eased him to the ground, leaned him against the undamaged side of the pale blue Dodge Dart, and urged him to wait there until the ambulances arrived. From the far end of the wreck-strewn area I heard the sound of a siren.

So . . . this was it. The police would be here soon. They would provide assistance for the wounded, but they would definitely be eager to arrest the four of us. I felt my stomach tie itself in a knot, and I wondered if I would throw up.

Through the haze of smoke, a police car skidded to a stop, lights blazing, siren blaring — and traveling in the wrong direction on the highway, the only way any emergency vehicles could get here while a mile of motionless traffic blocked the road in the other direction. Everywhere I looked there were injured people crying, bleeding, and hugging each other. Some of the smoke and steam continued to hang in the still evening air. The whole scene had a hazy nightmare quality.

A tall young police officer got out of the police car quickly and came striding across the battlefield with a grim look on his face. He held a black walkie-talkie in his hand, and he was speaking into it rapidly as he cast a keen and professional eye right and left, surveying the carnage and issuing a crisp report.

“We’ve got multiple injuries and about twenty cars seriously damaged. One car has smoke coming from the open hood, so we’ll need a fire truck. Bystanders are rendering assistance, and the injuries I’ve seen so far appear to be treatable. Both lanes are blocked, so traffic will have to be routed onto the shoulder, one lane at a — ”

He stopped cold when he saw me standing in the middle of the highway next to the man who was leaning against the car. He studied my face carefully to be sure I was really who he thought I was. He looked around quickly and spotted Doug with the young mother and her kids on the left shoulder at the guardrail. Doug had his arm around the young mother’s shoulder as he pointed at the policemen, obviously telling her that help had arrived. Carl was leading the dentist over to a teenaged boy who was sitting on the pavement, gritting his teeth and trying not to cry while he had both arms wrapped around a bloody knee which was visible through a ragged hole in his pants. Stan was across the highway with a man who was sitting against the guardrail while Stan used his own belt to tie a tourniquet around the man's leg.

The young officer brought his astonished eyes back to mine. He lifted the radio and said two words. “Stand by.”

He walked quickly over to me, his wide-eyed gaze never leaving my face. He was a tall man, over six feet, with a handsome face and pale blue eyes. When he reached me, I glanced down at his chest and saw a silver nametag that said J. Wilkerson. He brought his face close to mine and spoke in a low voice.

“Well, I’ll just be damned. You guys are the last people I expected to see here.” He glanced around again at my friends, still looking baffled by what he saw. “You actually stopped to help these people . . . wearing those masks?”

I couldn’t tell if he was complimenting us for being good citizens or criticizing us for being such damn fools. I figured it was probably both.

I swallowed hard to moisten a throat that was suddenly bone dry. I tried to answer, but the words caught in my throat. Finally I managed an intelligible croak.

“The accident happened right in front of us. We saw a car on fire with a lady in it. We . . . forgot about the mask.”

Wilkerson stared down at me, clearly astonished. He glanced over at the still-smoking car. "You guys put out the fire? And you saved the woman?"

"Yeah. We had a fire extinguisher."

He reached up with his left hand and shoved his hat back on his head, still looking at me like I had just landed my flying saucer on the White House lawn. The radio in his hand was squawking unintelligible messages largely comprised of radio codes I hadn’t learned yet and distorted English coming from a tiny speaker at high volume. But Wilkerson spoke this strange language like a native, so he put it close to his mouth and rattled off a quick report.

“Unit 22 to dispatch. What’s the ETA of the backup units and medical people?”

The voice from the radio sounded female, which surprised me for some reason. It said, Dispatch to Unit 22. ETA is two minutes.

Wilkerson’s eyes were still on mine, puzzled and unblinking. He spoke into the radio. “10-4. Unit 22, out.”

I looked over my shoulder and saw Stan, Doug, and Carl approaching. They expected to be escorted to the police officer’s patrol car and tossed into jail. They gathered in a tight group behind me, each one looking grim behind his mask. Wilkerson took a step back and surveyed our unhappy little quartet. He saw the blood on Stan’s hands from the tourniquet he’d tied on the injured man’s leg. He saw the fire extinguisher in Carl's hand. He thought about my statement concerning the lady in the burning car.

And then he spoke slowly in a soft, ragged voice.

“I think you guys need to get back to your car. Thanks for your help, gentlemen. We’ll take it from here.”

We all stood there like four wax dummies. Being told to just walk away was very low on our list of predictions about what would happen next — right below being notified that one of us had been crowned Miss America.

Carl was the first one to fully accept that a fast exit from Dodge City had suddenly become an option. He grabbed my left arm at the elbow and started dragging me toward the Jeep. Doug and Stan stumbled along in our wake, feeling just as dumbfounded as I did. The sun was below on the western horizon, and the sky was darkening. As we headed toward the Jeep, we saw the people in the cars ahead of us staring at the four wacky guys who were dressed like bandits.

But when we reached the Jeep and opened the doors, we heard a curious sound. It was coming from a few of the nearest cars. Their windows were rolled down, and the people inside them were . . . applauding. The four of us froze, still holding the Jeep’s door handles, and we gaped at this weird phenomenon. We were surrounded by people who had witnessed what we’d done, and they’d apparently been moved by it. A chill ran up my back.

Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see, a frozen river of headlights curving over the hill, blazing amidst the waning light of the twilight sky. The four of us were turning our heads left and right, taking it all in, lapping up all this spontaneous appreciation. It was overwhelming, and it certainly wasn't what we’d expected. We were surrounded by people who knew we were the Bowmen — and they were impressed.

Unfortunately, any one of them could give our license plate number to the police.

Well, no — not any one of them. Just the car behind us.

No, wait . . . not even him. His front bumper was inches from our back bumper. Our license plate was as well-hidden as the Lost Ark of the Covenant. I looked back at the car behind us. Its headlights were so close to the back of the Jeep that I was shielded from the glare, and I could see the people in the car. It was a young man with an attractive young lady, and the moment they saw me looking at them, they both started applauding again.

The few cars that were ahead of us began to move. Two other police cars had arrived, and the officers were directing traffic around the wrecked vehicles and onto the left shoulder. We all got into the Jeep as Carl cranked it, and he inched us forward. We saw two policemen up ahead, directing the traffic through the narrow gap between the guard rail on the left and one of the wrecked cars. Three ambulances had made their way to the wreck by driving up the empty highway beyond the scene of the disaster, probably by coming down the exit ramp a quarter mile ahead. To our left, the southbound side of the highway was backed up by two unmoving lanes of idiot rubberneckers who were mesmerized by the sight of injured people, shattered automobiles, and flashing police lights. I silently cursed them for wanting to see the unpleasant sights I had been forced to witness.

We saw Officer Wilkerson and other policemen attending to the injured people on the far side of the highway.

Without a word, the four of us knew it was finally time to take off our masks. We all did so, but we suddenly felt like we’d just walked into school stark naked. It was a familiar nightmare to all adolescents. But none of the policemen paid us the slightest bit of attention as we rolled past. We were just one more vehicle in the long line, waiting to get past the wreck. We picked up speed and put some distance between us and the other cars that were being waved through. We left the scene of the accident behind, going no faster than the speed limit, and acting like four high school kids who were out cruising on a warm summer evening.

No one in the Jeep spoke for a full ten minutes. We just stared straight ahead and marveled at our amazing luck. After all, what was there to say after an experience like that?


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Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)
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