Thursday, November 13, 2014

Clark's Journey

What follows is the first chapter (and probably the last) of a story I wrote some years ago, that I intended to chronicle the struggle in the teen Clark Kent's mind over how to handle his secret identity. His fears for the safety of those around him should his identity be compromised was leading him down a lonely path, and he was about to cut himself off from close human relationships for the sake of humanity at large. But in so doing, he would also lose the very thing that made him human and caring. The story was to show how he discovered that what he considered to be a dangerous drawback -his personal relationships - was actually his greatest strength and benefit. Even though I never took it any further, I think you might enjoy this first chapter, because it is based on the pre-Crisis Superboy that we all grew up with.


Clark opened the last drawer in his dresser (the old one, left to Martha by her Aunt Sophie, used in Clark's room since he had been with them) and took out the neatly folded clothes. Primarily fall clothes, they were heavier than the ones he had already packed. And considering the fact that cold meant nothing to him, they were -like many of the things he did- only to make him more like those around him. Where he was going, there would be no need to keep up the pretense of ordinary humanity. So why was he packing them?

The teenager thought about this, and decided against taking anything unneccessary that would occupy valuable space in his small suitcase. Putting them back in the drawer as neatly as they had been, one item caught his eye as he picked it up, and he paused. The memories it triggered came flooding in, every detail in perfect clarity. Lana had given him this particular sweater only two months ago for his 15th birthday. The sadness with which he had been packing only increased as the mental images paraded, unbidden, before his mind's eye.

Lana; her red hair shining in the glow of the candles on his birthday cake. Best buddy Pete; smiling with affection as Clark blew them out (very gently, to avoid showering everyone with Ma's homemade frosting). Pa; his ever-present camera capturing the event with multiple snapshots as Clark opened each present. Ma; as she hugged him and pecked his cheek, causing him to blush with embarrassment, which made everyone laugh the louder. And later that evening, when Lana had very privately -under their apple tree in the orchard- given him her best gift, saved for last: their first real kiss.

The gifted sweater made him pause and reconsider one last time. Was he doing the right thing by leaving?

Of course, everyone he loved would be hurt by it. But he had to balance that knowledge with the hurt that they might experience if he stayed. Lately his enemies had been becoming more powerful and dangerous. After donning the action suit fashioned by Martha from the unravelled blankets they had found in the spaceship that brought him, he had become famous. Mostly his adventures consisted of rescuing helpless people in life-threatening situations, averting natural disasters, stopping small-time crooks and the like. His rescue of baby Jessica, trapped in the well, had been captured in a photograph that was quite possibly one of the most famous ever published. The image had been printed around the world; Superboy emerging from the ground, holding wrapped in his cape the dirt-encrusted but alive infant, surrounded by a crowd of smiling and tear-streaked faces. It had endeared him to everyone, and to those millions praying for a miracle, he had seemed an angel.

But as his fame grew, so did the list of people determined to defeat him, with his former friend Lex at the top. Sooner or later, he feared, someone would discover that Clark Kent, mild-mannered Smallville student, and Superboy, the world-spanning Boy of Steel, were one and the same. Then what would happen to the ones he loved the most? Even he couldn't be around constantly to protect them.

Drawing resolve at the thought, he replaced the sweater in the drawer and closed it firmly, with strengthened conviction. No-one must ever discover the connection. For that reason, Clark Kent must cease to exist.

And Kal-El, last son of Krypton, known to the world at large as Superboy,  must take his place.

He knew he was making a momentous decision, one that would impact forever not only his life, but the lives of those around him, and quite possibly the whole world. But it was a decision he felt that he had no choice in. Ever since he had for the first time, quite by accident, lifted into the air and hovered there, he had felt driven by destiny. His life could never be simple, with decisions dictated by selfish desires or wants. Since discovering his unearthly origin, his steps had not been his own. This latest step was but another in a series down a path that was laid out in front of him.

With a last glance around the room, he caught sight of himself in the mirror over his dresser. The same mirror where, several years before, he had first looked at himself in the action suit and felt a chill run down his spine. Not so much in response to the way he looked; indeed, he had some reservations about appearing in public is such an attention-getting outfit. Rather, the hairs that stood up on the back of his neck were because, at that moment, he seemed to feel the touch of an invisible hand settling on his shoulder. As his super-senses revealed no real entity, he had to conclude it was the hand of destiny that he had felt. It was a touch he would come to recognize with greater clarity in the coming years.

He realised he still had on the glasses he had been wearing for the past few years, ever since Pa had suggested them as part of his efforts to make Clark and Superboy look less like the same person. In a small town like this, it would be too easy for those that encounter both personas to make the connection. It was that line of reasoning that led him to his current actions.

Glasses were for ordinary people, and he had no more need for such affectations. Removing them, he placed them on the dresser next to the framed Baby Jessica newspaper clipping. Then he picked up the slightly worn suitcase, straightened his shoulders -considerably broad for a boy his age- and walked out of the room which he had called home for so long.

His walk through the hallway toward the living room took longer than it should have. Each picture lining the walkway, documenting his life from infancy to teen, captured his eye. Still images of him at various stages, at various landmarks of life, caused an avalanch of memories. He had to make a herculean effort to keep walking, and not turn back. Moisture filled his eyes and made the images blurry, for which he was thankful. It would not do to stop now. Not when he was so close to going through with the toughest thing he had ever had to do.

He had thought long and hard about what to say to convince his foster parents (whom he thought of as his own) that he should go. Ultimately he had decided to explain his reasons in a note. He felt it was cowardly, but he knew he could never come out on top in a face-to-face discussion with them. He had faced down a giant robot controlled by Lex, he had stared down a gang of machine-gun toting gang members (staring with heat vision had helped persuade them), but when it came to facing Ma's tears, and Pa's calm reasoning, he knew his resolve would turn to jelly.

So, he had written it all down. But as he took the folded paper out of his shirt pocket, it finally hit him with an impact harder than that of the meteor he had diverted from hitting Earth last month. He knew that when Ma and Pa found the hand-written note, it would nearly kill them. How could he do it to them?

Yet, how could he afford not to?

A glance at the kitchen wall clock told him that they would be home soon from the farmer's market. He smiled wistfully at the timepiece. It was in the shape of a cat, and its eyes and tail moved back and forth to mark the seconds. Pa had brought it home as a gift for Ma, and she hung it in the kitchen as a reminder that love can conquer even bad taste.

Why was taking the simple steps to leave so difficult for him, he who could leap tall buildings in a single bound? Was he not the Boy of Steel? With a willpower as great as his physical strength, he forced his hand to place the letter on the table. He forced himself to open the front door and walk out. He forced himself to cross the porch (the same porch where he had sat with Lana so often... don't think of it!) and down the gravel walkway.

That same willpower carried him down the road to the bus stop. It lifted his feet to board the bus and his hand to pay the toll. It carried him to a seat and held him there as the bus pulled off in a cloud of Kansas dust.

As the bus pulled out onto the main highway, young Kal-el (which he now forced himself to think of as his real name) leaned back in the worn seat and thought about his destination. As of yet he was undecided about it. It had to be somewhere remote and inaccessable to people, that much he knew. What he needed was a place to retreat to when he wasn't busy protecting the world with super-feats; somewhere to call home, but without others around he could place in danger. Some kind of... fortress, or secret hideaway. Something to provide him with the solitude he had resigned himself to in his service to humanity. He mulled it over in his mind as the countryside blurred by the window.

He considered all sorts of places; the Mohave desert, perhaps. He could tunnel out a hidden base of operations in one of the towering buttes that dominated the terrain there. Or maybe the ocean. He could build an underwater domain deep down where no-one could ever stumble upon it. The northern Arctic wasteland also seemed a possibility, one he was leaning toward the more he thought about it.

Part of the reason he had taken public transportation instead of simply flying was that it gave him time to think. When you can travel faster than a speeding bullet, the time saved is of no help when you have no certain destination in mind. Sitting back and letting someone else drive, and seeing where you end up, has a certain appeal when you are clueless as to where you want to go. It gives destiny a chance to work, whoever's hand it rests in. And right now Clark needed time to think and was willing to see where destiny might lead him.

To Be Continued