The wintry sky seemed to be drearier and more grim than usual. The places that looked so familiar now seemed alien and distant, as if they had been changed overnight. Peter’s whole perception of the world took on a more shadowy tone. He’d always had a cynical edge about him but deep down there was a yearning for optimism; a deep-seated belief that even though his life may not have been exactly as he wanted it out there, somewhere, there was still a brighter day waiting for him. Those illusions had been shattered since Stephanie had died. There was no end to the tears, and it felt as if part of him had died as well. He hadn’t dared to put on the mask of Felicio and it was all Stacy could do to get him out of bed. Due to the tragedy college had been closed. Peter had sneaked in one night, it was so eerie and empty and haunted by the memory of all those who had perished that he couldn’t bear to stay there for more than a few moments.
He had returned home; his parents were worried when they hadn’t heard from him. He barely muttered two words to them though, he was so withdrawn and distant but little could they suspect how deep his guilt went. Every time he closed his eyes he imagined how her face must have looked as that tower came toppling down, and the look of realisation that she must have had when she knew that Felicio wasn’t coming to save her. He had failed her and he had failed himself, he’d failed everything that he had been working for over the past few months.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Stacy had tried to tell him, “you can’t be everywhere at once. These things happen…they’re terrible but they happen. You can’t lock yourself away like this, I know Stephanie wouldn’t have wanted that,” but all he could do was stare into space and think about his best friend’s last moments. After all, what good was being Felicio if he couldn’t even protect the people closest to him?
Now he was standing in a cemetery, feeling uncomfortable in his tight shirt and trousers, and it felt strange not feeling the comfort of Felicio’s costume next to his skin. The mass funeral was a sombre affair. The people were a sea of black, each unified in their grief. The town had been through a lot recently but this tragedy had been the breaking point. Many people had come out to criticise the police and the city authorities, and others said they felt genuinely afraid every day. As the sharp wind whistled around him Peter clutched Stacy’s hand and listened to the reverend’s words.
“Life is full of inescapable tragedy. Recently is has become ever present and in these dark days it is easy to forget the good in the world. There is still good in the world. We have all suffered, we’ve all lost someone who means a lot to us, but I as you now to turn to each other and remember that we are in this together. We are not alone, no matter how bleak or fearsome the world seems. We must honour those who died by not giving into our fear. We should not allow ourselves to be turned away from the path of the righteous. There is good in all of us. There is strength in all of us. There is hope in all of us. Join me in prayer now so that we may so goodbye to those we have lost, and we can ask the Lord for strength in these troubled days.”
They bowed their heads. Peter didn’t ask the Lord for strength, but he did send a message to Stephanie, just in case she was out there somewhere,
‘Steph, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to save you. I should have been, I should have been better but you don’t know how hard it is sometimes. All these things that happen…sometimes I just want to be normal and I want everything that I’ve always dreamed of having but then there’s Felicio and I want to be a hero but I can’t sacrifice all of myself. I can’t be everywhere at once and I can’t save everyone and I hate it. It scares me because I want to be a perfect hero and I should have saved you. Sometimes it all seems too much and I wonder if I can succeed, because at the moment all I see is failure. And I can’t believe you’re gone. I don’t think I could have done this without you. I know I was…difficult sometimes but I miss your advice and your patience and the way you were the only one to actually take an interest in me. You were my best friend and I’m so sorry for letting you down. I’ll never forgive myself.’
A single tear trickled down his cheek and Stacy squeezed his hand harder. As the reverend spoke the name of every person who had died that day Peter etched them on his conscience, because if he had been there he would have been able to prevent the incident. After the service everyone mingled, although Peter largely kept himself to himself. Every time he looked into someone’s eyes he felt a pang of guilt, and he could barely speak to anyone without his voice cracking. However, Stephanie’s parents sought him out.
“Hello Peter,” they said.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you…um, Stephanie had a few things that we know she’d love for you to have. If you could come by at some point that would…that would be great.”
“Okay,” he said. They looked tired and worn out. Stephanie had been their only child and when Peter looked at them he saw how closely she resembled them. Her father didn’t say anything, but they looked older than he remembered them being. Perhaps they had all aged a little more than usual that day. After that he and Stacy moved through the field, passing alongside the mourning throng.
“Are you okay?” she asked, but he barely heard her. With his enhanced senses he could hear everyone’s complaints. Some of them mourned their losses, some of them blamed the arena management, some of them claimed the world was going to hell and there was no hope for anybody. Most simply grieved, and wondered why it had to be their loved one that was taken. Each of them searched for a purpose or a reason but none of them could find any. As well as parents there were a lot of people Peter recognised from college, and some he knew were Star Children. E wanted to confront them there and then and yell at them, ask them what were they thinking, why were they doing what they were doing but he restrained himself. The only other person he wanted to see was Emma, but he wasn’t surprised that she was absent. The sheer cauldron of grief would have been far too much for her to endure, but he did notice an isolated figure that looked familiar and it took him a few moments to remember that it was Emma’s twin sister Katrina.
“Er, hi, Katrina? It’s Peter, we met briefly a while ago, I’m Emma’s friend.”
“Oh, hello,” she said dismissively, barely acknowledging his presence as she gazed into the distance.
“Can you just let her know that I’m around if she needs to talk about anything.” Her eyes snapped to Peter’s face and her tongue lashed out
“If she needs to talk to anyone it will be me. She doesn’t need anyone else poking their noses into her life,” her nostrils flared and her eyes blazed. Stacy and Peter were taken aback by the outburst, but it was in a low voice so nobody else noticed. Stacy was about to retaliate when a loud droning bell rang out. DONNNNGGG DONNNNGGG DONNNNGGG. Everyone looked up at the huge tower, for the bell wasn’t supposed to ring until the turn of the hour.
“The bell is tolling for us all,” Katrina said, and then she walked off, leaving Peter and Stacy mystified.