Felicio Chapter 8 – Never Unscathed

Felicio sat perched atop a familiar spire. Cars whizzed by below, their lights blurring into one endless stream. The whole city was a throbbing, undulating mass that survived by tearing the hopes out of the souls of dreamers, leaving them as nothing but husks full of bitterness and desperation. Felicio watched on, determined that as long as he wore that costume he would not get dragged down into that gloomy mire. But as it was, he could not focus on the problems of the city for guilt was gnawing at his conscience and his soul was twisted in a knot for the way he acted towards Stephanie. He pushed away his only friend although, he considered, now that Emma was on the scene was Stephanie his only friend? He and Emma shared a bond, but there was still so much he didn’t know about her…and Katrina, she was unsettling to say the least. The way she looked at him with utter disdain almost made him feel nauseous and he had to admit that he wouldn’t be unhappy if he never saw her again. However, he put thoughts about the twins aside for the moment.

                Was it so bad that somebody was actually concerned about him? Why was he unable to handle such a basic tenet of humanity? Did he feel unworthy or was it just a selfish reaction so he could avoid facing his own shortcomings? The questions blitzed through his head and nagged incessantly at his mind for there were no clear answers. They careened and reverberated against the walls of his near-limitless psyche, threatening to fracture his very core. He shut his eyes and pressed them so hard he could feel his eyeballs ache, trying to push the thoughts out of his mind but they only stayed and grew stronger.

                He was entirely alone up on that spire, watching over a world that he was separated from. Out of all the people that existed he could only count one of them as a friend, and that made him feel rotten. And it wasn’t enough for what he had to do. The exchange between the detective and Mr. White had made him aware of the drug problem that was apparently rampant in his college. It wasn’t strange that he was so unaware, for he was only on first name terms with those in his classes and he only spoke to them in class, with rare exceptions. It wouldn’t do for Felicio to be seen rampaging around the college, so he would have to find out as much information as he could as Peter. The thought scared him because he had no idea how to ingratiate himself with other people, but then the thought occurred to him that he could enlist the help of a willing ally.

                Underneath the mask a smile formed on his face. Thinking about ways to combat a problem provided him with a sense of purpose and it served to distract him from his self-pitying attack. Then, in the distance an explosion rang through the air. A building was ablaze. A bright orange glow appeared and it didn’t show any sign of diminishing. Felicio gritted his teeth and leapt down, sprinting to the scene of the tragedy.

                As he approached he could feel the air grow hotter. Anguished screams echoed in his ears and he tried to put them out of his mind, for they only caused him to feel sorrow, and he didn’t have time to be distracted from his task. A crowd had quickly gathered and were moving amongst the chaos. The fortunate souls who had escaped the blaze watched on intently, frozen numb with fear. The fire crackled and seared the air; it had now enveloped the entire building – a tall house which had been converted into a number of flats. Felicio stood on a roof opposite, watching the crowd who were gazing at the building helplessly. Some of them pointed frantically and he could hear cries of ‘help’. Without thinking he stepped back, then sprinted and launched himself off the roof. Flames licked his body as he flew through the air. People gasped as they thought they saw a figure enter the house but they couldn’t trust their eyes. Felicio crashed through a window and rolled out, balancing himself securely.

                He crouched down, barely able to crouch through the smoke even with his enhanced senses. He coughed and spluttered. The stench of burning plastic and wood was like poison to his lungs and the heat was suffocating. His eyes watered and he began to feel disoriented but then he heard a small, whimpering cry so he persevered.

                The whole house shook and creaked so he stepped gingerly over the charred floor. Shards of glass were littered around, along with other fragments of a civilised life. To his horror he saw the unmoving bodies of a cat and her litter, and Felicio shed a silent tear for his fallen brethren. He moved out of that room into a corridor, to the right was a kitchen which was now almost entirely black with ash. The cries were coming to a room on the left. Bit of the ceiling had fallen on a bed; the door had collapsed and was lying askew. Felicio had to kick it; it was so fragile it splintered easily.  Felicio stayed close to the floor, wondering if all his recent worries were for nothing. Even though the room was an inferno a harrowing thought chilled his spine – this house could become his tomb.

                Flames were wrapping themselves about every part of the house, weakening the structure. Felicio knew he didn’t have much time. He crawled underneath a mirror which had become lodged against another piece of wreckage on the bed. As he passed beneath it Felicio caught a glimpse of his reflection, and realised how absurd the situation was, but then he spied a picture on the floor. The glass was cracked but he could see a couple with two young children and he redoubled his efforts to squirm through the narrow gap.

                Once through he saw that the door to a walk-in closet was barred by a heaver dresser. The surface bubbled because it was so hot but Felicio strained every sinew in his body to move the wooden monstrosity away. The weight dug into his fingers and he could barely breathe. As he moved the dresser it made a skin-crawling scraping sound which pierced through the grey haze and screeched in his ears. But he succeeded in moving the titanic weight and felt satisfied when it crumpled against the wall.

                The whimpering had grown weaker. Turning his attention to the closet he opened the door, but the hinges had been weakened so it came off in his hands. He tossed it aside and glanced down, shocked to see two pairs of bright blue eyes cowering. The two children could have been no more than seven years old. Tracks of tears had left pathways of clear skin through the ash and dust on their faces and their tousled blonde hair was ruffled. They were clinging to the body of a woman but her eyelids were dropping and her hands were limp. Felicio crouched down and tried to speak to the mother.

“I’m here to help you. I’m going to get you out of here. Give me your hand.” He had no idea how he was going to carry all three at once but he decided he would find a way. However, the mother shook her head and groaned, beckoning Felicio closer.

“Take them,” she whispered. He looked at the scared children.

“I’ll come back for you.”

                He tried to pull them away but they clung to their mother. He pulled and pulled and they wailed, and their mother cried in anguish at the thought of her children being burned alive because they couldn’t let go. As much as it pained her, she turned her body away from them and while they frantically waved their arms to try and reclaim their grip on her clothes Felicio wrapped his arms around them and carried them away. They struggled and fought and screamed. Felicio couldn’t blame them. He couldn’t risk releasing them in case they tried to make their way back to their mother so he couldn’t bend under the mirror. Instead he had to manoeuvre his body around the sharp pieces of wood that were scattered over the bed. The house rocked with each step and it was only due to his cat-like reflexes that he was able to keep his balance.

                Having traversed the bed he stepped off, the children still wriggling in his arms. He began to plan his escape route, if he carried on down the corridor the stairs were near but a few feet away. However, when he stepped the ground crumbled beneath his feet and before he could leap back it had given away completely and the three of them were falling helplessly through the air.

                Somehow, he managed to roll his body around and pull his arms into his chest so that the children were protected. The sensation of falling was surprisingly relaxing, although waiting for the crunching landing was not. He tried to keep his breathing steady and spared a moment to reflect on his life, knowing that if he was to die, this was a better way than living an empty life that lasted another six or seven decades.

                Then came the crunch. Felicio’s eyes shot open in sheer pain, his back took the brunt of the fall and it was a blinding agony he had never experienced before. It took him a moment, but he was still able to move. The children were still alive, and now they were clinging to him. He was shaken from his stupor by a plank impaling the floor next to his head. He rose, but something was wrong, he almost collapsed back to his knees. He glanced down and twisted his head around. Through the smoky mist he saw a long nail sticking out of the left side of his back, just above his hips. He gasped, but knew he couldn’t surrender.

                He was on the lower floor now. The house was crashing down around him, loose bits of wood flew through the air and the loud roar of the fire was as terrifying as a banshee’s scream. Giving it everything he had, Felicio dashed through the house, using every sense available to him to avoid danger. Eventually he saw the flaming doorway. He looked down at the kids who were by now all cried out and then ran, his side crashing into the door. He rolled out of the way of the flames and felt the cool comfort of the grass. The onlookers were amazed and rushed up to him. By now the fire department had arrived and was already working to put out the blaze. A news crew had also entered the scene, and once the reporter saw somebody had left the building she instantly with her cameraman to get more information.

                Felicio coughed and made sure the kids were alright, they ran to a neighbour who wrapped their kind arms around them, but nothing could wipe the look of horror off of their face, not yet anyway. Felicio got up, the pain in his back shooting through his whole body. People were asking him questions but all their words were lost in the distance, mingling into a fuzzy static that meant nothing. Abruptly, to the shock of the crowd, he turned and re-entered the house.

                The flames were now burning brighter than ever and it was as if he was entering hell. Without a thought for his own safety he made his way back to the room where he had dropped down. In a flash he surveyed the area, a lot more of the house had collapsed but Felicio thought he saw a path where he could use the broken building to reach the mother. He scaled the pillars and poles and makeshift walls, leaping about with unmatched grace and accuracy until he was able to pull himself back up into the room. But then, due to his exertions, the wreckage collapsed into a jagged pile of painful death.

                Undeterred, he went to the mother. She was still breathing, barely. He picked her up in her arms and thought about how to leave. He couldn’t simply drop down because they would both be pierced on the newly-formed spikes. There was no other way; he had to leap across the gap. He calculated it and he thought he could make it, he knew he could make it, he believed he could make it. Readying his powerful legs with the tension of a coiled spring he leapt forward, using as much momentum as he could to thrust himself forward and it was barely enough. When he landed he rocked back, and almost fell into the fiery chasm but he managed to steady himself.

                Breathing a sigh of relief he carried the woman back to the room he entered, but this time, as he passed the kitchen, he noticed a figure slumped over the counter. Felicio gulped, he had to get the woman to safety otherwise the boys would be orphans.

                The window he entered through wasn’t an option, it was a sheer drop and he was afraid the recoil of the landing would injure the woman further. On the other side was another window and it led to a balcony. It wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do. The flames swarmed around him but they were almost repelled by his force of will alone. He smashed through the screen door but there was no relief from being outside, it was as smoky and hot as inside. In the background he could hear powerful jets spray the building, trying to calm the fiery storm but it would take gallons upon gallons of water and there was no chance of the fireman gaining control of the fire before Felicio had to make his way down.

                The building was four stories high, and they were on the fourth story. Each flat had a porch area, so Felicio had a place where he could jump down but they weren’t staggered like steps so he couldn’t simply jump from landing to landing. Instead, he hoisted the woman over one shoulder and climbed over the landing, so he was holding them both up with one hand, the other hand was holding the woman securely. In this way he dropped down, level by level, using his instincts to know when to halt his descent. Somehow he blotted out the nail that was eating away at his innards. With each jump the nail jerked, splitting the skin and skewering his insides but he endured and it was a relief when he felt the secure ground under his feet.

                Triumphantly he walked around to the front of the building where the crowd was waiting. When the boys saw their mother they rushed forward, so too did the camera crew. The first shots the public ever saw of Felicio were of him carrying the woman from the burning building, inspiring, heroic shots, but what followed were some of the most despairing scenes ever recorded.

                Felicio laid the body down, but as he did so he noticed that she’d stopped breathing and there was no pulse or any sign of life. Felicio cradled her head as the boys hugged her and cried out “Mummy, mummy,” but they were left unanswered. They gazed up at Felicio, but he had no comfort to offer them, much to his dismay. The cameras were pointing at him, their lights blinding and suddenly a microphone was thrust in his face. Overwhelmed by the sorrow and the pain he could barely think straight.

“Who are you?” the reporter asked. Felicio looked directly into the camera, and even though he was wearing a mask somehow everyone watching could sense the depth of sorrow this man, this hero was feeling. He looked down at the woman and bitterly said,

“Felicio,” and then he staggered away into the night.

 

The fire continued blazing for hours until the fireman finally got it under control but everyone was in awe at the masked man who had risked his life to save the children. Practically everyone in the city was tuned in, and the legend of Felicio spread. Only a few had different reactions to the masses. Stephanie and Emma watched on in horror, glued to the screen and petrified for their friend. It was on all night in the police station too.

“Looks like that could be your guy,” Lauren said to Alan Lang, “seems like he’s a hero,” she added with a smirk. Detective Lang merely grunted in reply. But even though the town now recognised Felicio’s heroism he didn’t feel fulfilled, in fact it didn’t even sink in. Even though he had saved those two boys from certain death it wasn’t enough. It would never be enough until he could save them all. 

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