The playground was filled with children yelling and running about. Emil, a fifth grader, was talking to his friend Collin.
“Let me tell you a secret,” Emil whispered to Collin.
“You’ve got to guess.”
“You know I hate that.”
“Fine,” Emil paused. “I’m Superman – well, just invincible like him. No matter how hard I get hit I don’t feel pain.”
Collin followed up the only way a child knew how. “Prove it then.”
“Hit me right in the face.”
“Okay.” Collin was hesitant but balled his hands into a fist. He threw a clumsy right hook at Emil’s jaw, who looked stunned but unaffected.
“See? You believe me now?”
“I guess,” Collin said.
Later in the day, Emil, Collin, and Laura were walking home from school. Laura was Emil’s crush, but even more than that she was the brightest person in their grade and even made the “next smartest” kid look like a clown. She spent time with Emil and Collin because she liked to laugh. They followed the train tracks but made sure to keep a safe distance away. Trains roared along every hour and one always came fifteen minutes after school let out.
“Race you to the street!” Emil yelled, having already taken off. The street was the main road where the train crossed and the road met the suburbs. Collin ran after Emil, and despite her reservations against it, chased after Collin.
Laura’s heart palpitations started first, and then came the heavy breathing. She couldn’t see out of her periphery and tried to call out to Collin and Emil for help, but between the wheeze of her voice and the distance of the boys, no one could hear her. She trudged along and when she made it to the street the boys were gone. In her absence of mind she followed the train tracks further northing thinking she’d find help. Then she collapsed.
Emil shouted to Collin after they’d both rounded the turn on the street. “Where’s Laura?”
Collin shrugged. Emil shouted for Laura but he didn’t hear a response. He ran back down the road to find her but she wasn’t there. The horn of the approaching train was blaring now. Collin tried to yell over the screech of the whistle that he had found Laura on the tracks but Emil couldn’t hear. The train was chugging forward and she wasn’t moving. Collin pulled but Laura wouldn’t budge. Her backpack had gotten trapped on the rail somehow. He continued to yell and pull in vain and the train was only a football field away.
Emil spotted Collin and rushed to help him move Laura. Next to Collin they both pulled her, and then Emil tried to push while Collin pulled. She wouldn’t budge. There was only one way to stop the train that was rushing down on them. Emil nodded to Collin and pushed him out of the way. He lowered his shoulder towards the train to protect Laura and braced himself for the impact.
Family and friends frequently visit Laura Tillman’s grave. Flowers are left colorful and orderly. In the same cemetery is a small onyx stone marking the resting place of Emil Jones. The epitaph reads, “Here lies Superman.”