I wrote a 500-ish word version of this story for a Flash Fiction challenge (see below), but I decided it really needed a longer treatment. 500 words isn’t enough to really tell this kind of story, and Josie deserved better. Here is the longer version.
Still-Life, with Snowflake
I walked around her still form slowly, admiring. There was much there to admire, such as the way the pale, mid-winter light caught her cheekbones, or the tiny snowflake that was less than a second from landing on her hair where it would melt and join hundreds of it’s kin moistening her golden locks. Or the way her pose, launching herself forward with one arm pulled back in a fist to strike, accentuated the lines of lean muscle in her calves, her tight abdomen. That her belly was flat and taut was quite readily visible through the skin-tight spandex super-suit she wore. Red, with a golden falcon on the chest.
With a suit like that, her name should have be Phoenix, or at least Firebird. But no, it was Yellow Falcon. Some heroes really need better PR teams.
In truth, a better PR team was the least of the things she needed right now. Needed? Needs? Will need? The language has problems dealing with this sort of situation. I could invent an entire new vocabulary to deal with it, and maybe I will. It would help to pass the time.
Most of the world knows her as Yellow Falcon. I knew her as Josie Wheatherly. She used to live up the street from me when we were teenagers. We went to the same high school together, although I doubt she’d recognize me if we met on the street, considering. Actually, I doubt she’d have recognized me even if I hadn’t discovered the Power. It’s not like we were in the same social circles. She was beautiful and popular and smart, and I was a greasy-haired pimply nerd. She never even noticed I was around. I was careful, in those days, to make sure I only looked at her when her attention was elsewhere.
Now, of course, I could stand right in front of her and look deep into those wonderful blue eyes. I could, and did, and she still couldn’t see me. She would never see me. Because of the Power.
She had powers also, obviously. Thus the costume, the heroic pose. Her powers involved the manipulation of electromagnetic forces in the visible light spectrum. At least that’s what was publicly acknowledged. I rather suspect she can manipulate X-ray, infrared and ultraviolet also. It would go a long way towards explaining some of the things she was known to have done.
It wasn’t just that our Powers were different, there was also the uses to which we put them. She used hers to fight crime. I used mine to…
Well, at first I used it to overcome my innate laziness. Or rather, I used it to make others think I had done this. So I slept in late? No problem. I would just stop everything while I ate breakfast and enjoyed a casual stroll to work. No one ever noticed.
Later, I began to want more than just a McDonalds career. I wanted a real job, a job with some prestige. For that, I needed a degree. For that, I needed college. The problem there was that I hadn’t done all that well in school. I was smart, yes, but I was also lazy. I hated doing homework, so I never did. As a result, I barely made it through most of my classes. I would have to do something if I wanted to get into a good college.
I realized that my Power was the solution. I could take any test they cared to give me, and ace it. If I didn’t know an answer, or even if I was just slightly unsure, I could stop everything and go research it. I could study as long as I needed to until I was positive I not only knew the question but all tangential details surrounding it. The admissions director at Princeton was quite impressed that I was able to cite, from memory, entire bibliographies worth of source material for any question he asked.
It took me 4 years to get my first PhD. My second and third came a year apart after that. By the time our high school Ten Year Reunion rolled around, I was a VP at a major software company.
It was during this time that I began to notice that my Power, while it froze time for everyone else, was fairly literal in that it did not freeze it for me. I was getting older. It wasn’t too bad yet, I was only about 5 years or so ‘over’ what I should have been, but I began to notice. I resolved to cut back on my use of the Power, but it is just so darned useful. I seldom have to worry about parking tickets, I can sleep in late and still get in a good morning workout before arriving to work on time, and I seem like a God in the office with my ability to write seemingly any number of reports in whatever unrealistic time-frame they give me. For the first time in my life, I was respected and even possibly feared slightly. It felt wonderful.
I would see her on TV sometimes, Josie. She was always out there, so beautiful in her spandex suit, fighting crime and stopping terrorists. Keeping the world safe. I never really got over my ‘thing’ for her, although she occasionally made me ashamed of myself. In the time I was getting my third PhD and shooting to the top of my company, she accounted for the capture and conviction of over twenty-five members of the Golina family. She used her powers to save a bus full of kids from a gas explosion. I learned how to play the piano between ticks of the clock in order to impress a woman I had just met in a hotel bar.
It was the Golina thing, I believe, that brought about our current circumstances. I have no real way to verify this, but I suspect that they set up this entire thing. The jewelry store robbery as a diversion, getting her in place so the assassin could shoot her. They needed take her out, to kill this one-woman whirlwind sweeping through their ranks.
My own involvement was entirely an accident. I was late for a first meeting with some girl I found on one of those internet dating sites. The kind that supposedly match compatibility. They claimed we were 95% compatible, which was the highest I’ve ever seen, so I was eager to make a good first impression. I took my time getting ready, primping and making myself look like a million dollars. As a result, I was late. I stopped everything and was walking across town when I saw it. When I saw her. Josie. The Yellow Falcon.
It didn’t take me long to figure out the situation. A jewelry store, broken glass from the windows on the pavement and inside. Two men in ski masks with bulging pillow cases full of jewelry. Yellow Falcon, launching herself at the one in front. Even through his mask, I could see that his eyes were wide with surprise. This had not been part of the plan.
I walked up to her, meaning just get a good look at her, smile, and be on my way. This wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle. I started to walk past her when I noticed it. The bullet.
It is large. Fifty caliber. Hard armor piercing tip. It is less than half a millimeter away from the back of her skull. It is, in fact, touching her hair.
I thought about pushing her away. Yes, it would reveal my Power to her as she came back to life while the rest of the world stood still around her, but that hardly mattered in comparison to her life. I almost did it. I was about to when a thought struck me.
The bullet was touching her. I wasn’t sure how that would affect it. Would the bullet unfreeze also? In which case, she would die before I could push her out of the way. I had to do some experiments.
I found a nearby sporting good store that sold stopwatches; the kind that can track hundredths of a second. I took one and then found myself a piece of paper. The menu at a local greasy spoon would do the trick. I placed the paper on the middle of the counter. I set off the stopwatch and placed it on the paper, and refroze both. Being very careful to avoid the watch, I touched the edge of the paper.
The watch came to life.
Obviously there is a limit to this effect. After all, I am touching the ground and yet not everything else touching the ground was going off. Or.. was it my shoes that were blocking the effect? I reached down and touched the floor of the diner with my bare hand, but everyone stayed frozen.
I thought about why this could be the case, and decided there must be a size limit. Things below a certain size ‘pass on’ the unfreezing effect, while larger objects do not. I had never really experimented with my Power before, but it was suddenly deathly important that I find out if that size limit was larger or smaller than a 5’4”, 130 lb human being.
It took me a while to find the things I needed. I stole a mannequin from Filene’s, and a bunch of meat from Shaw’s. I measured and cut until the mannequin and meat were exactly 130 lbs. Putting a hole in the torso of the mannequin, I stuffed the meat inside. I put the stopwatch on the mannequin and re-stopped them both.
My hand trembled as I reached out for the display dummy. I had to stop and take several deep breaths to calm myself before I could go on. I wasn’t this nervous at my dissertation. I forced my hand to stop shaking, and I touched my mannequin.
The watch came to life, mocking me.
Cars, as it turns out, are large enough that they do not ‘carry’ the effect. I found this when broke my hand punching the nearest one I could find. The overcast, snowy sky treated my screams and my tears exactly the same way it treated my begging and pleading; with total indifference.
I spent the period while my hand healed reading everything I could on ballistics. I studied material properties of any substance I could possibly imagine might be used to deflect that bullet. I ran test after test on mannequins, fruit, glassware. I interposed all manner of things: lead, steel, kevlar, titanium. I traveled all around the country, stealing whatever I needed in an effort to find a way to save Josie.
Nothing worked. The bullet was too big. The gun it had to have been fired from was too high-powered, it would be moving too fast. Nothing that was thin enough for me to slip between her head and the lethal bullet would make enough difference.
So I turned my attention to chemistry. If nothing existed yet, I would make something. I read every book on the subject. I broke into labs, I stole supplies. I theorized and experimented. I ran test after test. None of it worked, and I went a little crazy.
I turned to magic. I was desperate, willing to try anything. I read up on the occult. I broke into libraries and people’s houses in order to steal ancient grimoires. I performed spell after spell, recited chant after chant. All I got for my efforts was a long beard and a profound hatred for the smell of patchouli incense.
I went numb for a time. I lived on the beach in Miami. I raided people’s refrigerators and nearby restaurants for food. I read a Hemingway novel I found in someone’s bathroom so many times the pages began to come loose from the binding. I drank a lot of rum.
Finally, I came back to myself. I washed myself in the surf and shaved in some guy’s sink. I wonder how he’ll react when he finds that massive lump of hair in his waste basket. I stole fresh clothes, and walked back to Boston. I used some advanced ballistics tracking software I wrote on my PDA to track the bullet back. I found the sniper and shot him in the head nine times. He won’t even feel it when time resumes: he’ll just go from gloating to dead with literally no in-between.
I returned to the scene of the robbery, and sat there on the ground looking up at Josie for a long time. She was so beautiful, so heroic. Her life had meaning. She helped people. I couldn’t even help her when it really mattered. My tears froze on my cheeks as I begged her to forgive me.
I can’t save her. All I can do is keep her here, frozen in this one perfect moment, suspended between life and death, between earth and heaven, until I die.