The screams grew louder as Stone-man ran towards the room. Large flames danced around him, now leaping forward, now going back, teasing him with their carefree somersaults. The room’s door was engulfed in flames, he couldn’t get the boy out from there. If Mer-woman was here, she could hold the fire long enough for him to get the boy out. But she was outside the house, trying to douse the right places so the whole house wouldn’t collapse.
Think. He looked around and found a section of the wall where the fire hadn’t reached yet. Oh well. He swung and punched a big hole in the wall. The boy was huddled in one corner of the room. That’s where they always go.
“Let’s go kid,” he said, noticing the scruffiness on his voice from all the inhaled smoke. It annoyed him. It’ll take him several few days to recover his voice. Guess the Saturday date with Natalia is getting canceled. Again. The boy held him tightly as Stone-man picked him up. He was in shock but breathing normally, that was good enough for Stone-man.
There was a creak and the wall started to collapse. Stone-man just got out of the room in time as the roof collapsed into the room. He noticed the floor below him heating up. Damn. The whole thing was coming down. The delirious flames were reaching for everything now; they knew they had won.
He ran as he felt the floor starting to crack. “All right kid, no time for formalities now,” he shouted. He jumped as they reached the end of the hallway, keeping his shoulder forward to shield the kid. The walls burst open on impact, and they were falling down two stories. Stoneman held the child closely and braced for impact. He hit the ground and lost his balance, rolling on the ground for a few yards before stopping, the child huddled in his arms. The kid was fine, at least physically. He had to stop doing these big jumps, it was bad for his knees.
He stood up. The whole five story building was collapsing now. The fire-fighters stood afar and watched; there was nothing more to do. He searched for Merwoman. Wasn’t it her job to keep the building from coming down?
A couple ran towards him and the woman took the child from his arms.
“Oh thank god you’re okay,” she wailed. “I was so afraid they won’t get to you in time like in Hertford last year.”
The guy—Mr. Husband, Stone-man guessed, stood looking at the smoldering rubbles of their erstwhile house. “And with no insurance, hah! Thanks guys, I don’t know what the community would do without your incompetent assistance.”
But Stone-man didn’t say anything. He walked away towards the police cars and saw Merwoman chatting with officer Murray. He sighed.She always got to the officers first, because somehow she always managed to take the easier task. Spraying water on the outside while he went inside looking for people, taking care of the minions while he fought the hurling giant, herding people to safety while he faced the gunmen’s bullets. And then she always managed to talk to the officer’s first and tell them her version of the story. He was sick of it.
“I thought you were supposed to keep the building standing with your water works,” Stone-man said as he walked up to them.
“How the fuck am I supposed to do that while you punch holes everywhere in the building!” Merwoman shouted at him.
Officer Murray looked at him silently. Stone-man knew whose side he was on. It was all a fucking scam.
“There was no other way to save the boy,” Stone-man said.
“Didn’t I tell you that’s what he was going to say?” Merwoman said to Murray.
“Well, there’s no point arguing about it,” Murray said. “I’ll write it in the report. We have to take Stone-man’s word for it. We weren’t there.”
“Damn right you weren’t,” Stone-man said, and walked way.
Stone-man pulled out his car and got on the road. He had gotten his powers when he was fifteen years old, and he’d been ecstatic. No more school for him: no more lousy lessons, homeworks, detentions. It was a going to be a new life. And it was something he had always dreamed of, as he watched the superheroes on television. Three years of superhero training in Atlanta, and then a life-time of saving the world.
A lifetime. Young people never know how long it is. Their lives aren’t long enough to grasp the enormity of it. No matter how exciting at the beginning, everything becomes boring after years of doing the same routine. And he’d been doing it for more than thirty years now. He was in his mid-forties now, single, childless, and all he felt inside him was a smoldering anger that never rose into flames, nor died down. It just burned him slowly from inside.
The pub was mostly empty by now. Stone-man sat at the bar and nodded at the bartender as he caught her eye. She nodded back, put down the glass she’d been drying out, and poured him his usual Manhattan.
“You look extra glum today rocky-boy,” she said as she leaned on the counter. She’d gotten a new hair-cut. Short, coming down to shoulders. It suited her. She wore black lipstick that stood out on her pale face, and her earrings were jade green. Here was a woman who knew how to dress.
“Just the usual office-stuff darling,” he replied. “How’s your day been?”
“Good tips, and only one asshole tried to grab me. I call it a wonderful day,” she replied.
Stone-man smiled. He’d known Charlotte for over two years now. She’d never said her day had gone bad.
“I don’t know where you get your good spirits from.” he said.
“The trick is to keep enough spirits inside you,” she said, clinking her turquoise colored nails on his glass. “If you want another one you have to tell me now. I am closing in ten minutes.”
“I am fine. What’s your plan afterwards?”
“Just go home and sip a glass of wine, I guess,” she replied as she picked up a cleaning cloth.
Should I ask her out tonight? Stone-man turned the thought in his mind. What if she said no?
“What’s your plan rocky-boy?” she asked after a few seconds of silence.
“Probably do the same, may be put on a movie,” Stone-man replied.
How about we join our plans? Ask her!
“What kind of movies do you like? I am guessing not …” Charlotte said.
“No, not those,” Stone-man said. Charlotte laughed. It was like a gentle stream falling over rocks. “I like old spy movies.”
Charlotte’s cell-phone buzzed on the other side of the counter.
“Oh I like those as well,” she said as she walked over to her phone. Her expression changed as she read the message. Her eyes twinkled, as she stood there thinking for a few seconds. Then she typed something short, and walked back with the phone in her hands. Her face was flushed and she looked absently somewhere in the distance.
“Do you like Sean Connery?” Stone-man asked.
“What?” Charlotte asked, startled.
Stone-man hesitated. “The spy movies, we were just talking about that?”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” she said absently.
He heard a car pull up in the parking. The door opened and Stone-man turned to see a well-dressed man walk in and sit on one of the now empty tables. He turned back to see Charlotte smiling.
“Closing time rocky boy,” she said. Her eyes danced.
“Of course.” Stone-man gulped his drink, kept the cash on the counter, and walked out.