A Different Kind of Hero — Part I.

Gasoline poured slowly and methodically out of the makeshift can Joseph Allen Wright carried down the tight hallway beset on both sides by rooms of sleeping children. He made sure to avoid close contact with the walls and away from the doorways. A laser emitted from his hand to trace the path he’d left behind. He nodded slowly and made his way down the hall again, the flammable liquid trailing behind him.

He turned at the end of the hall and made his way into the communal bathroom, throwing the gasoline around much less carefully in this room, throwing the cannister halfway into the bathroom. As it lay on it’s side, the rest of the contents spilling out, Wright pressed a few buttons on the side, and a ten minute countdown started.

“Perfect,” he smiled, pulling a can of spray paint from his bag. He sprayed two large X with a sharp, squiggled line below, almost in the shape of a face that matched the mask he wore on his forehead, not quite pulled down correctly. It was the calling card of the Aggressors, a gang of hoodlums that no one had ever seen, no one was sure even existed who crippled the citizens of Empire Falls with fear. For the past six weeks, there had been fires set throughout Empire Falls; schools,
markets and government buildings. All after hours, and all set with gasoline and a detonator. The damage of each was minimal.

It was the fires set while the bigger blazes burnt that scared the people of Empire Falls. Cars exploded in driveways on the outskirts of the city almost simultaneously, no person having any sort of link to any other person. Other times, houses were set on fire, more than the fire crews could handle. People stood and watched while their homes burned, dreams and memories died, while sirens echoed in the distance, too far away to help them now.

“What’s that?” came a tiny voice behind Wright.

“Huh?” he said, his heart skipping into his chest, pulling the mask over his face. He hated the mask, but, it beat someone spotting him on the street.

“We aren’t allowed to paint on the walls,” the girl said rubbing her eyes. “And it smells funny in here.”

“You’re dreaming, princess. There’s nothing here,” Wright said, putting away the paint. “Go back to bed.”

“If I’m dreaming, I can do anything I want.”

“No, in this dream, you’re going to go back to bed, or else the big strong man will turn this into a nightmare. Understand?” The little girl nodded and scampered away. Wright looked at the detonator. “Shit. Five minutes. Not enough time,” he said, running down the stairwell with another canister of gasoline pouring behind him. He painted the doorway with the liquid and ran out of the building.

Wright turned just as he made it to the motorcycle waiting for him. He looked at his watch and smiled. “Just about time to go to work,” he said before he sped away.

Seconds later, smoke poured out of the windows as the fire spread down the hallway. Muddled panic and the sound of glass breaking erupted from the windows of the Empire Falls Reformitory for Girls. A bell sounded from inside the building, and the panic grew, young girls screaming and looking out the windows as the fire inside grew bigger, enveloping walls and doors.

A siren called in the distance, as the girls pushed for fresh air, the windows too small for them all to fit out. A crowd assembled from neighboring buildings, people watching in stunned silence and fear, looking at their buildings to see if maybe they would be next.

A red truck made it’s way down the long street toward the fiery structure, travelling at the highest and safest speed possible, sirens screaming through the silent night. Behind, and orange streak painted the skies.

“LOOK!” someone cried out, pointing to the streak, as it slowed outside the building, easily beating the fire truck by some twenty blocks.

“It’s Tremendous Justice!” another bystander said, clapping her hands together. Tremendous Justice pulled a few girls out of the first window, setting them down in the crowd of bystanders.

“Help them!” he shouted at the people below, before leaving to grab more girls as the fire engine pulled up, another truck screaming from down the street.

Through the second window he grabbed more girls, pulling them to safety. They hugged him and thanked him profusely as he set them down. An explosion rang out, sending debris scattering to the skies. Tremendous Justice turned and screamed “NO!” before taking off again, into the fiery debris. He breathed deeply before exhaling, cooling and taking away the flames that had grown into the first rooms as the first sprays of water followed to other rooms.

He made his way down the hall through the flames, his body seemingly ignoring or impervious to all effects of the fire. He looked into the rooms down the burning hallway, and breathed out a few more plumes of flame, extinguishing the fires surrounding him, almost immediately cooling them. He opened doors, and grabbed scared little girls, taking them out of the building in groups of three or four.

After the last load, he’d taken a deep breath. “Where’s Amanda?” a girl asked as the rest of the girls started to look around. “She’s not here! Tremendous Justice, please!” they shouted at him, too late. He’d already reentered the building, and began calling her name.

“AMANDA!” he shouted through the rubble and remaining flames. He hurried toward the end of the hallway and turned into the bathroom. There, curled up into a ball lay Amanda, the contents of the half-wiped up graffiti on a rag in her burnt hand. He rushed over to her. She looked at him, her eyes wide, body in shock. “We’re not supposed to draw on the walls. I didn’t want the man to get into trouble.”

“What man?” the hero asked. “Do you remember what he looked like?”

“No. I thought I did, but, I can’t remember.”

Tremendous Justice floated slowly with her outside of the bathroom, carefully as to not hurt her further. She was burnt badly on her back and arms. “It’s okay, Amanda. You’re going to be okay. I promise you.”

Amanda nodded, and closed her eyes as Tremendous Justice set her in the back of a waiting ambulance, his eyes tearing up.

He took a deep breath and moved to the fire truck, crawling underneath. “You hooked up?” he said to the Sergeant who only nodded. “Good.” The Hero of Empire Falls nodded back, and lifted the truck, flying into the air. The truck and Tremendous Justice worked together, putting out the flames quickly, the people watching him with awe, the little girls huddled together for warmth.

Soon, the flames were out, and the truck sat back where it belonged. People cheered as Tremendous Justice bowed, and waved to the crowd, then grabbed the ambulance that held little Amanda and sped to the hospital as two more explosions on opposite sides of town blew simultaneously.

It would be another long night for Tremendous Justice.

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