By Margaret Brignell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: Clark gains perspective on life, relationships and himself as he makes his way around the globe, writing travel pieces for the Smallville Post. Clark meets interesting people and manages to stumble into adventure — but always at the back of his mind is that puzzling break-up with Lana Lang.
This is my second fanfic. I'd been thinking about writing something on Clark's life, prior to his coming to Metropolis, for some time. This idea came to me after watching Tempus, Again. I really disliked the Lana in the alternate reality and I wondered what Lana had been like in the "real" Clark's world.
I'd like to thank Louette McInnes and John Giffin for their detailed input that helped make the "real" parts real. Most of all I owe a debt of thanks to Debby Stark for pointing out the weaknesses in my story, not to mention typos and spelling mistakes, and encouraging me to continue and not to give up. I should point out that they are not to blame for any errors in the final story. I made those mistakes all on my own:)
Disclaimer: All DC characters are the property of… etc., etc. However, the rest of the story is mine, all mine (excluding the bits suggested by Louette, John and Debby, of course<g>). Words with * are emphasized.
Clark was sitting on a ledge overlooking the Grand Canyon. He stared morosely at the ribbon of water far below and sighed. Why was life *so* difficult?
Last year at this time he and Lana had been preparing for a summer of fun and his future had seemed so bright. Now Lana's final words of rejection rang in his ears and his future seemed dark, in contrast with the dazzling blue sky above. He picked up a pebble and pitched it into the canyon, gently blowing it out of the way of any life forms as it descended to the river below. He'd decided to fly to this remote section of the Grand Canyon instead of hiding out in his Fortress of Solitude, like he used to do before he could fly, because the little fort was *way* too close to Smallville. *There* it seemed he could hear every single thing people were saying, without hardly trying, and he didn't really want to know what Lana had to say about him.
Last fall Lana had suggested that while he was away at college it would be a good idea to date other people "just to be sure" they really knew what they wanted in life. He'd had no idea what she'd meant by that because he had been perfectly happy with things as they were. Unfortunately, the knowledge that he was "available" had meant a rush of girls vying for his attention. *That* hadn't pleased Lana *at all*. Lana had been furious that he'd taken Rachel Harris to the Smallville High senior prom just before Christmas. When he'd protested that this had all been her idea she'd been *very* upset. He still wasn't sure why. After all what he'd said was the truth!
That argument had been resolved before he returned to college in January. Today, after he'd arrived home at the end of the final first year semester at Midwestern, they'd had another clash— and it looked like the final one. She'd taken off the pin that he'd given her when they were going steady and had practically thrown it at him, saying they were through. He'd watched in stunned silence as she'd gotten into her father's car and driven off.
The funny thing was he'd had no inclination to protest or follow her. He couldn't understand it at all. Lana and he had been friends since kindergarten. When she'd suggested they go steady last summer, he'd been pleased that she wanted to make the relationship more binding. Now it was all over, and he didn't much care. He should have been angry, or happy, or *something*… What was wrong with him?
Clark slowly got to his feet. It was almost dinner time in Kansas and his Mom would start worrying if he didn't get home soon. He sighed and flew straight up until the air grew thin. This act made him feel a little better. Being able to do this, using his recently found skill, always enchanted him. The view below was spectacular! The desert all shades of red and yellow. If only *real* life could be this beautiful.
Clark landed gently behind the barn. After straightening his clothes and putting on his glasses, he squared his shoulders. He mustn't let Mom see him depressed, or she'd ask questions until he surrendered and told her what was bothering him. Since even *he* didn't know what that was, he wanted to avoid her scrutiny. He walked through the barn, and headed towards the house. He could hear Mom on the phone. She seemed to be talking to Mr. Isaacs at the Smallville Post and as he entered the kitchen she said, "I'll get him to call and let you know his answer," and hung up the phone.
"Clark, is that you?" His Mom turned towards him with a radiant smile, "that was Mr. Isaacs. He wants you to come back and work at the Post this summer."
"Sure, Mom. I'll call him tomorrow." Clark walked towards the stairs.
Martha followed him up the stairs. "Clark, what's wrong? I got a call from Gracie Lang. She says you and Lana had a fight."
"Mom!" Clark had *known* this would happen. Now she would keep asking questions until she was satisfied. He couldn't bear it. "This is between me and Lana. I know what I'm doing! Please, just leave me alone." Clark stalked into the bedroom, shaking his head at himself because he'd lost his cool and blurted out so much, and *very* gently closed the door behind him.
Martha stared at the closed door. For once in her life she wished she had some of her son's powers, if only to shake some sense into him. Although it didn't take mental telepathy to know that he was having girl problems. Martha sighed. She'd expected he would have problems when he hit puberty, but except for his decision to try to hide his "special" qualities from the world there'd been no indication of any distress. Now, since they'd discovered he could fly, he seemed to be having a lot of difficulties. Martha thought that maybe this was because now he knew he was *really* different from everyone else, not just stronger than or faster than other people, but fundamentally different. She wished he'd share the burden with her, or his father.
Martha turned and went back downstairs to the stove and finished cooking the sausages and potato pancakes. Throughout these preparations she could hear Clark pace in his room overhead, then stalk into the bathroom to wash his hands. She wished Jon hadn't had to go to that meeting tonight. She needed him here, now.
Setting filled plates for herself and Clark on the table, she called him to dinner.
Clark came quietly to the table, sat down and ate dinner without saying a word.
Martha coughed. "Clark, I think we need to talk." When Clark's head jerked up in exasperation, she continued calmly, "no, Clark, don't. I know you're upset, but you're not a little boy anymore and I can't just pick you up and hug you to make it all better. We have to *talk* about whatever's bothering you because I won't have you pacing around here like a caged tiger."
Clark swallowed hard. Martha thought she saw him fighting back tears and had an idea of why he might be angry. Besides, he was still young enough to think that tears were unworthy of a grown man.
"I don't know what to talk about. Lana and I had a fight. It's over. There's nothing to talk about."
"Tell me what happened?" Martha already knew that Clark had "pinned" Lana early last summer, but she hadn't thought their relationship very serious at that time. She had hoped for Clark's sake that his friendship with Lana would develop into something more lasting. So was this a temporary problem, the kind all good friends went through, or an end to the relationship?
"I don't want to talk about it. Please, Mom, just leave me alone."
He made a movement as if to get out of his chair. Martha reached over and grasped the back of his hand. "Clark, you can't just bury your feelings. Would you rather talk to your father? He should be back from the meeting by nine."
"No, Mom. I just don't feel like talking right now. Maybe later, but not right now."
Martha let him go so that he could pick up the dishes and take them to the sink. He washed, dried and stacked the dishes while Martha watched him work, contemplating his back and broad shoulders. She wished she could help, but sometimes he was just so stubborn she could have sworn his birth parents were mules. Well, not really, but sometimes he could be just *so* aggravating.
Martha got up, and picking up a sweater in case it turned cold later, walked towards the door. "I'm going down to Carmedy's for the committee meeting on the July Craft Show and Sale. I should be back by ten. Why don't you just relax this evening and we'll talk later? Umm?"
"Sure Mom." Clark watched her until she'd driven beyond the trees and the sight of normal human eyes. Then he turned away and closed the front door.
Why was it parents never knew when to let go? He was old enough to make his own decisions. Though, to be fair, he had to admit that Mom hadn't given him as much of a third degree has he'd feared. He sighed and walked slowly into the living room.
Clark turned on the TV and flipped through the channels, but nothing caught his interest so he turned off the sound. He flopped onto the couch and closed his eyes, his mind drifting off to the argument he'd had with Lana.
He couldn't understand why Lana had turned on him like this. They'd been friends since before he'd known he was "special." After all these years why would she suddenly bring up *that* old news? Could she really have never heard it before?
She'd never seemed to pay attention to his past before, why now? She *had* changed a bit since he'd left for college last fall. Now, she hung around with the "in" clique at her high school and tried to keep up with the latest trends. But he'd thought she still wanted him as a friend, and maybe even more than that. Her new friends seemed to like him when he came home on weekends, but he'd occasionally wondered if they really liked who he was as a person, or just the fact that he was in college. He supposed it was the opinion of these "friends" that was the reason for her outburst today.
Suddenly he found that he was floating. He hadn't lost control like that in ages. Actually, now he thought about it, not since Lana had made it perfectly clear, after gaining acceptance by the "in" group at school, that she didn't want anyone who was "different." He had never been sure if Lana suspected his "special" abilities, but he had the definite feeling that she would not *now* approve of anything really "unique."
His eyes closed, he floated above the sofa, trying to figure out what it was exactly that had made him just let Lana go. He thought, now, that if he'd argued with her she probably would have relented. However, he hadn't wanted to argue and that made no sense to him at all. He fretted over this dilemma for a while until he couldn't bear to think about it anymore.
When he opened his eyes, the TV was on the PBS channel showing a National Geographic special on Ayers Rock in Australia. He stared at the screen, fascinated. What an amazing natural phenomenon. He really should go there sometime. It would be a wonderful place to visit after he'd finished college.
Clark floated down to the sofa and was getting up to click off the TV just as he heard his father step up onto the back porch.
Jonathan had run into Martha in town and knew that Clark was having some kind of girl problem. He didn't want to have to deal with it. He'd always found it difficult to discuss these kinds of things with Clark after he'd realized that, because of his uncommon strength, Clark might never be able to have that kind of relationship with a woman. On the other hand, he also figured what Clark really needed was a man-to- man talk and his own fears wouldn't help Clark deal with his immediate problem.
"Hi Clark, I'm home."
"Hi Dad. How'd the meeting go?"
"Fine. I ran into your mother. She said you needed to talk to me."
Clark rolled his eyes. Trust Mom to "accidentally" run into Dad. "I told Mom I didn't much feel like talking right now. Please, Dad, just let me handle this myself."
Jonathan was both relieved and distressed. Clark didn't have anyone he could really confide in except himself and Martha. On the other hand, Clark was a levelheaded boy who could be trusted to do the right thing. "Sure, son. If you change your mind, I'll be in the den." Jonathan went into the den and closed the door so he could concentrate on preparing the quarterly statement of earnings for the farm.
Clark went back into the living room and began flipping through the channels again, mostly as a way to keep his mind off his problems. He stopped on some silly sitcom. About half an hour later, he heard his Mom park the car in front of the garage.
Martha hadn't been able to concentrate the whole time she was at the craft show meeting. She so wanted to stop Clark's pain, but didn't want to interfere. The conflict had driven any desire to work on the craft show right out of her head.
She walked into the living room and quietly watched Clark flipping through the channels. "Hi Clark. Did you have a nice evening?"
"Sure Mom. How was the meeting?"
"I have no idea. I was so worried about you I couldn't concentrate and, I know this is silly, but I just wanted to be back here talking you through your problem."
"Mom, there's nothing you can do. Lana made it *very* clear she never wants to see me again and to be perfectly honest I don't think I care to see her again either."
Martha sat on the couch. "Oh, Clark! I'm so sorry. I was really hoping that you and Lana would be able to work things out. You've been friends for so long."
"I know. But, I just discovered I really don't know her at all." Clark switched off the TV and walked over to the couch and sat next to his mother.
"Lana? After all these years you don't know Lana? Why, whatever do you mean?"
Clark then told her about the trip that he and Lana had taken, with her clique of friends, to Topeka last Thanksgiving to visit the big shopping mall. How there'd been this young woman in a wheel chair having difficulty getting up a curb and how he'd helped her. Cairine Romana, the woman in the wheel chair, had thanked him profusely and said she was meeting her husband at the cineplex.
When he offered to push Cairine to the cineplex at the far end of the mall, Lana had *not* been pleased and made it clear that she didn't want to go with them. Clark had told her he'd meet her, and the rest of the group, at the coffee shop in about ten minutes and pushed Cairine in the opposite direction. On the way to the cineplex, he'd talked to Cairine about her disability and asked if she often had problems getting around. She'd told him that it wasn't so much the physical barriers that were the real problem, rather it was other people's perceptions. She'd had polio when she was four, but she still had to deal with hair salon assistants who refused to wash her hair because they were afraid of her and potential employers who couldn't get past her external appearance.
"Mom, even though she had all those difficulties in just getting by day-to-day, she was so cheerful, and she had such zest for life. I felt good just because I'd talked to her."
Then Clark went on to relate that when he'd caught up with Lana and the rest of the group again at the coffee shop and tried to tell them something about Cairine's life. None of the group had seemed to have any understanding of Cairine's courage. They said he'd been very noble to give her help, especially since she wasn't very nice to look at. One of the girls had commented that she had nice eyes, but wasn't that hump on her back the grossest thing. He'd turned to Lana as the one person he could count on to understand. But she hadn't understood at all. She'd been dismayed that he'd embarrassed her in front of her friends.
"Lana only saw the broken body, Mom. She didn't seem to be aware of the beautiful person who was inside." Clark drew in a breath to help calm himself.
"It was then that I began to wonder if she'd like me if she knew what I really was. I…I… began to think she saw only my outer appearance and not *me*. Not the *real* me." Clark was trembling.
Martha laid her hand on his arm, stroking him to help him past the anxiety. "It's okay Clark. Your Dad and I are still here for you."
Clark continued as if he hadn't heard. "So in December, when she said we should date other people, I thought she was trying to let me down gently. But then she got mad when I dated other girls. I don't understand, I thought that's what…what she wanted."
"She probably wanted you to say no to the idea."
"You mean it was a *test*? For crying out loud! *Why?* I… I guess I wasn't very bright, I just took her at her word." Clark hung his head, sighing in the direction of his feet.
"Clark, you did what you thought was right. No one can fault you for that." Martha brushed his hair out of his eyes. "What happened today?"
Clark drew a deep breath. His voice cracked as he told her the story of his final fight with Lana.
"Lana said she'd found out all about me. That she couldn't continue going out with a bastard."
"She called you a bastard?" Martha was shocked.
"She heard the story about me being illegitimate, that you adopted me because my mother committed suicide and how everyone felt sorry for me."
"Clark, you *know* that story isn't true."
"Yes, Mom, *I* know. But what could I tell Lana? After her reaction to Cairine, how do you think she'll react if she finds out I may not be human? Being a bastard would be a step up from that! She couldn't accept a brief conversation with a so-called 'defective' human. How could she accept me for what I really am?" Clark sighed, wishing he could take a deeper breath and get the tension and hurt all out.
Martha put her arms around Clark and hugged him close. "Clark, don't let this upset you so. You are the best person you could possibly be. Your father and I are really proud of you." She released him and again brushed the hair out of his eyes. "I think you need to cut your hair soon. How about we try to do a neat job tomorrow?"
"Mom," Clark slowly smiled, "are you trying to distract me?" His Mom could always ease things into the realm of the mundane if she thought it would help—and often it did somehow.
"Well, maybe, just a little." Martha crinkled her eyes and gave him a bear hug. "So what did you watch on TV?"
"A documentary on Ayers Rock in Australia. It was just amazing. You should have seen it. I'd love to visit there some day."
Jon came out of the den into the hall stopping briefly to figure out if it was safe to join in the conversation.
"So what's stopping you?" Martha grinned wickedly at Clark. "You've had the capability for almost a year now. You could go explore this summer. It would be a great learning experience for you. Give you a chance to test your abilities and find out what you're capable of doing."
Clark sat upright, his interest ignited. Then he slumped back a little again. "But I have to earn some more money for college. I can't just take the summer off to wing around the world."
"Mr. Isaacs wants you to work for the Post this summer."
"Oh, great—as an errand boy again, just like last summer and the summer before that. That's not going to be much fun."
"How do you know what he'd like you to do, if you don't ask? He knows you can write, *maybe* he wants to talk to you about that."
"And if he doesn't, son," his father added, "*you* bring it up—and don't let up until you get the answer you want to hear, either."
Clark's face brightened as if a sun had just risen within him. This was much more pleasant to think about than his problems with Lana. "You know maybe I could travel *and* work for the Post. I'll talk to Mr. Isaacs tomorrow."
Mom's voice crackled over the telephone line. "So, Clark, how was Ayers Rock?"
"Absolutely amazing, almost like it had been dropped by a giant hand from the sky. The colours change all the time. It's hard to describe. I saw it at sunrise and it was absolutely breathtaking. Nature can produce the most extraordinary things."
Mom had bought a cordless phone just before he left on his trip so that both she and Jon could be on the phone at once and they could all talk "as a family" every week when he called home collect, so Clark wasn't surprised to hear his Dad say, "Clark, what's this I heard on the TV about a 'miracle' at Alice Springs?" Jon's concern came through loud and clear between the crackles in the phone line.
"It wasn't anything that special. The guy was too drunk to be a credible witness. I'm sure no one realized I did it."
"Jon, I'm sure he's being careful. He knows what he's doing. So Clark, how was the flight down there?"
"Fine, Mom." Clark grinned. They'd been having this kind of conversation ever since he'd been small. Dad always worried, Mom always encouraged. "It didn't take as long as I thought it would, but it was more tiring than I could have possibly imagined."
"You're all rested now? "
"Sure, Mom. I think it'll get easier with each flight."
"So where you headed next, son?"
"I was thinking New Zealand, Dad. Remember Trev, the Kiwi I met when I was 13? He told me about these amazing hot springs at Rotorua. I thought they'd be worth visiting."
"Sure do. Anything he'd recommend ought to be worth a visit. Have you sent anything to Mr. Isaacs yet?"
"Yesterday. I airmailed him my story on Ayers Rock. I could have done it last week, but somebody travelling normally, in a plane and on a train, they would have taken until yesterday to see what I described if they'd left from Sydney."
"Smart thinking, son. Now you be careful."
"Take care and we'll talk next week."
"Yes. Mom. I love you both. Bye. Talk to you next week."
Clark hung up the phone reluctantly. He could have just flown home for these family chats, but Mom had insisted that he must be truly away for the entire trip. She had said that it would be easier to act like he wasn't there if he *really* wasn't there. Clark suspected that this was just another way that Mom and Dad had agreed on to try to give him a "normal" life. "Normal," he thought, for a guy who can fly…
The next morning he flew to the North Island of New Zealand. His flight to Australia had been based on maps and star charts, but during his trip to Ayers Rock he discovered that if he ascended high enough he could often see his launching point, a good land-based route, and the destination of his trip from the stratosphere. So this time he flew straight up until he could see the North Island and then just aimed for the largest city he could see.
He landed in Auckland near the bus station and, acting as if he'd just got into town by bus, went to the Information Kiosk to get maps and brochures on Rotorua and the surrounding area in the centre of the island. He debated flying there, but decided a bus trip would be a novel experience and would create the least suspicion at the other end. He'd told Dad the problem at Alice Springs had been a non-issue, but he thought he'd better become a little more cautious. He didn't want to spend his *entire* trip talking to police officers.
The motel near the mud springs wasn't plush, but the price was well within his budget and it had laundry facilities. Something he desperately needed right now after ten days outside in the Outback. Mom and Dad had insisted on funding this trip, but he wanted to keep the costs to a minimum. Since he was basically his own airline, didn't actually *have* to eat and he could survive quite comfortably without a roof over his head, the costs so far had been basically the collect call home, the bus trip to Rotorua and the occasional candy bar. Mom and Dad had given him a few hundred dollars in travellers cheques with instructions to call if he needed more. Mr. Isaacs was picking up the costs for submitting the stories, and had given him a small advance to cover such basic business expenses. With all the money he'd saved so far, Clark figured he could splurge on a motel room and restaurant food just this once.
After lunch he went to the motel self-serve laundry and washed every single item of clothing he wasn't actually wearing. While the clothes were drying, he decided to visit Whakarewarewa Thermal Area and take a walk among the mud springs. Calling them springs made them sound almost pretty. However, in reality the boiling mud and steam was almost primeval. The steamy mist rose ghostlike over much of the area and the smell of rotting eggs penetrated everything. According to the travel brochures, the Maori had used the mud and clear pools for cooking, washing and bathing for hundreds of years.
As he walked along the paths between the mud pools, he was once again amazed at the variety of ways in which nature expressed herself. This thought evoked memories of the wonders at Uluru. Remembering Ayers Rock led to thinking of the reported "miracle" at Alice Springs. He hadn't thought of how it would look when he'd dived from the sky to snatch the toddler out from in front of the careening bus. Fortunately, the only real witness was the old drunk. The driver of the empty bus had had a heart attack and was unconscious through the whole incident. The little girl had talked a lot about a nice man coming to rescue her but she couldn't be more precise.
If it hadn't been for the inebriated old man insisting that he'd seen an "angel" flying to save the little girl from the jaws of death, he was sure the police would have never been involved. It was also unfortunate that one of the big Australian tabloids just happened to have a reporter in town and it was a quiet news day. As a result the story of the "Miracle in Alice Springs" had hit the international media overnight. Anyone who had any kind of resemblance to the reported "angel" had been questioned by the police. Clark had been able to convince them that he'd arrived in town *after* the "miracle" and felt fortunate that the police hadn't really believed the old guy and, as a result, hadn't inquired too closely about his itinerary from the States. He now realized he'd have a real problem explaining how he'd gotten to the South Pacific without an airline ticket.
Because he was concentrating on how to avoid this kind of problem in the future, he wasn't paying much attention to the ground immediately underfoot and suddenly found himself slipping into the fence surrounding the nearest mud pool. He was about to fly himself away from the problem, when he saw a woman appear at the top of a small rise in the path just ahead of him. He had no choice but to come to a sudden halt at the fence. Unfortunately, the abruptness of his stop meant that his glasses flew off his face and into the mud and, to add to his embarrassment, he was bent double over the fence with his head and arms almost in the boiling mud.
The woman hurried to help him out of his predicament. She grabbed his arm and helped him lever himself off the fence.
"Are you okay? Did your skin touch the mud? Did you burn yourself at all?"
"No, I'm fine, except I lost my glasses in the mud." Clark turned to look into the mud and saw them just resting on what appeared to be a mini-island in the seething mud. "I think I see them right there."
Clark plucked a branch from a nearby bush to fish his glasses back off the muddy island. He reached down with the stick, as if exploring to find his glasses, but aimed lower to pull at the mud island which had appeared to have some unusual features when he'd used his "special" vision. He hooked onto the human hand and pulled gently.
The woman gasped as the body of a man appeared out of the mud. "Oh, my God, he must have fallen in and drowned. How awful!"
Awful, Clark thought, wasn't the half of it. Someone had plunged a knife into the man's back. Clark felt his mouth go dry. "I think he had help," he said, trying to make light of it so the woman wouldn't panic. He x-rayed the body for other signs of harm and saw that it looked like that man had been dealt a blow to the back of his head. The man had been knocked unconscious before being knifed. The mud would have added insult to injury, by boiling him alive, if the knife hadn't already done the job.
The woman put her hand gently on Clark's arm. "I think you'd better sit down."
Clark stared at her. Why did she want him to sit down? It took him a couple of seconds to realize she must think he was staring at the body in fright, after all she couldn't know he was x-raying it. Although he wasn't terribly happy to see such a thing, he didn't find it frightening, maybe because it looked like a big human-shaped lump of mud. However, he'd found in the past that if he did what people asked him to do he could tell the truth and people would interpret what he said through the filter of what they believed. This tactic had helped him many times when he'd almost blown his cover before. So he immediately followed her suggestion, rather suddenly because of the slippery slope.
"I'm fine, really." Clark protested as he sat down.
"Well, I'm a nurse and the way you were staring at that body makes me think that you may be going into shock. One of us needs to go for the authorities. I know the way, and won't get lost in all this mist, so I'll go. I need you to stay here and make sure that no one touches the body."
Clark nodded, "Okay."
"Now if you don't feel well, don't fight it, just let it go. Nothing could make this mud smell any worse than it does now." She smiled reassuringly, patted his shoulder encouragingly and strode off in the direction of the motel.
Clark smiled in return. He hadn't given himself away after all. However, he really would have preferred not to have had to sit right down in the mud, not to mention he wasn't real happy to be stuck with the body.
Sally, the nurse, stayed with him through the police interview and the official viewing of the body for identification. The police said that he must have just missed the killer because, with the temperature of the mud pools, the body wouldn't last all that long in the mud and still be recognizable. After he'd signed a sworn statement that this was the body he'd pulled from the mud pool and that he hadn't tampered with it, Sally drove him back to the motel.
"You should change into clean clothes." Sally was looking at him with concern in her eyes.
Sitting in the mud had done nothing for his appearance. The police had encouraged him to clean up a bit in their men's toilet, but he still felt grimy. "All my clothes are at the laundry, in a dryer. That is if they're still there after all this time."
"I'll get them while you shower. You'll only have to wash them again if you touch them with all that mud on you."
Clark smiled his thanks and went in to take his shower. He turned back and called after her "They were in dryer number 3." Sally waved her understanding.
Clark showered and then rinsed his muddy T-shirt and jeans in the bath tub. He'd go to the laundry again after dinner. He heard a knock and, with just a towel wrapped around his waist, answered the door.
It was Sally with his clothes all neatly folded.
He took the pile of clothing, placed it on the bed and turned to thank her for all her help. She was staring at him with a glazed look on her face. He could hear her heartbeat revving into high gear and her breathing was becoming erratic. She let out a soft moan.
Clark grasped her by the elbow, pulled a chair behind her and helped her to sit down. He brought her a glass of water from the bathroom and supported her hand as she drank it.
"When did you eat last?" Clark asked. He suspected that it wasn't lack of food that was causing her to faint, but he didn't want to admit there might be another reason.
"This morning at breakfast. I was going to get some lunch when we found the body. I haven't had a chance to eat since."
"But breakfast was at least ten hours ago. No wonder you don't feel well. Look, I owe you for all the help you've given me today. Please, let me buy you dinner."
"That would be nice." Sally smiled up at him. "I'm sorry for being so silly. I guess I'm not as used to looking at bodies—*dead* bodies, I mean—as I thought."
Ordering himself not to blush, Clark said, "I guess nobody ever does get used to looking at a corpse."
Sally began to nibble on his ear. Alarmed, but trying not to look that way, Clark pulled back and smiled self consciously.
Sally sat back and asked: "Clark, how old are you?"
"Ah, nineteen. Why?"
They were in Sally's apartment. Clark had really enjoyed dinner with Sally. She'd explained some of the local dishes, like whitebait patties and paua, to him. They'd avoided talking about the mud pool and the body but had chatted about travelling in general, and travelling in New Zealand in particular. When they'd finished eating, he'd escorted her back to her apartment and when she'd asked him in to have a cup of tea he'd accepted. The invitation had seemed so innocent at the time, now he wasn't so sure that accepting it had been such a very good idea. At first Sally had been just as charming, if slightly remote, as when they were in the restaurant. Then, when they were sat on the sofa sipping their tea, Sally's whole demeanor had changed. All of a sudden she'd begun to get *very* friendly. Clark was at a complete loss as to what he should do now. Nothing in his life up to this point had prepared him to deal with this.
Sally started to unbutton his shirt and breathed a whisper into his ear. "Because I find you *very* attractive. Do you object to being with an older woman?"
Clark gulped. What was he supposed to say? Sally was nice, but he didn't feel *that* way about her. He'd just accepted an invitation for a cup of tea. She was ten years older than him. He didn't have *those* kind of feelings for her, or did he? He felt so conflicted. On the one hand his conscious mind was saying "No," but on the other he could feel his blood pounding through *every* part of his body.
"Clark? You *do* like girls, don't you?"
"Yes, of course. It's just…"
Sally stopped him with a well-placed kiss. Her hands caressed his bared chest and started to move towards his waist. Clark was beginning to feel the edges of panic. He hadn't felt like this since that time he and Lana had been in the back seat of her father's Chevy, and they'd been interrupted by Officer Fitzgerald. He was pretty sure he wasn't going to get that kind of help in making his decision this time.
"Sally… I'm not real sure about this." He grasped her hands in his and pushed her gently away. "I…I…don't think I'm really ready for this kind of commitment."
"What commitment, just enjoy!" Sally pulled her hands out of his and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.
Clark took a deep breath and ordered his body to relax. He wasn't very successful, but enough to feel he was more in control. He gently removed Sally's arms from his neck and said softly, "Sally, this isn't right. You don't know anything about me. I really don't want to hurt you…and I don't think this is the right thing for me." And in a vain attempt to soften the blow he added, "Not tonight anyway."
Sally looked confused. "But I thought you *liked* me."
"I do, Sally. But I hardly know you and I'm not ready for this." Clark got to his feet, rebuttoned his shirt and started to put on his jacket. "I think it would be a good idea if I left before we do something we'll both regret."
"You bloody bastard!" Sally threw a cushion at him. "Why'd you accept my invitation to come up here if you weren't interested in getting to know me better?"
"I'm sorry. Really, I wish it could have been different." Clark was overwhelmed. How had this happened? He'd taken her invitation as just that. An invitation for tea and some conversation. How could he have been so wrong?
Clark left, closing the door softly on Sally's tirade of curses.
Outside the apartment building Clark leaned against a wall in the alley beside the building. How had he got himself into this? Did accepting an invitation into someone's apartment automatically mean you were willing to have sex with them? All the girls he'd known in Kansas had lived with their parents. If a girl invited you in for tea—that's what you got, tea.
He felt so inexperienced. He squeezed his eyes shut. The other guys at college wouldn't have had this problem, he was sure. They'd have reveled in the experience and just gone with the opportunity as it presented itself.
Instead, here he was standing in a dark street, with his hormones raging and no relief available. A cold shower wasn't going to solve *his* problem.
Opening his eyes again, Clark checked to make sure there was no one in sight before taking off straight up, punching his way through the clouds. He managed to avoid the flight path for Auckland and took a deep breath just before exiting the earth's atmosphere. Space was the only place he figured would be cold enough to help him. He didn't know how long he could hold his breath, but imagined it would be long enough to at least give him some relief.
As he floated in space, gazing at the stars, he thought about the way Sally had lured him to her apartment and tried to seduce him. What if the situation had been reversed. Would he have tried to pressure her into having sex with him? He didn't think so. He hoped he wouldn't. After all what could the girl do to get away? He was so much stronger than any girl, any human if it came to that, she'd *have* to do what he wanted. Clark, appalled at what he'd just thought, made the mistake of trying to take a breath. He quickly sped back towards the earth. As he reentered the earth's atmosphere, taking a deep breath, he made a promise to himself. He would *never*, *ever* put anyone in the position of being forced to do what he wanted them to do just because he wanted it. *Never*.
Clark landed behind the motel in the shadow of the laundry room, straightened his clothes, put on his glasses and hurried to his room. Once there he plucked his still-damp clothes from their hangers in the bathroom and took a quick, hot shower to wash away the impure feeling the evening had left him with.
Clark would have preferred to leave Rotorua the next day, but the police had "requested" that he stay over the weekend "to help them with their inquiries" and to attend the inquest on Monday morning. This left him with all day Sunday to try to keep his mind off the incident with Sally.
Over a late breakfast, he read the story written up on the "Body Mystery" in the Sunday paper. The police were being cagey about the exact cause of death and the identity of the man was being withheld "pending notification of next-of- kin."
Sunday afternoon and evening he spent visiting Pohutu Geyser and then the Maori Village. The dinner he enjoyed at the village featured evening entertainment demonstrating Maori customs and action songs. He really enjoyed the demonstrations and was fascinated by the intricate action of the poi balls. Concentrating on the action in front of him helped him get his mind off previous night's events, and the impending inquest.
Clark studiously avoided meeting Sally at the inquest. They both testified, but neither spoke to the other, either before or after the inquest.
Wondering if this might make an interesting story for the paper back home, Clark talked to the Inspector in charge of the case to find out if they knew who had killed the man. Inspector Thompson said he couldn't say, but they had a couple of leads. They hoped to be making an arrest shortly. Clark asked if it was okay for him to leave on tomorrow's flight. Thompson said that would be fine as long as Clark could be reached. Clark let him know that, if all else failed, he always spoke to his parents in Kansas every Friday and they could be counted on to pass a message along. Inspector Thompson gave Clark permission to leave.
Clark went back to his room to rest and plan his departure the next day. He'd decided that after two interviews with different police agencies it might be a good idea to have his own flights coincide somewhat with commercial timetables. He didn't want to have to explain how he'd got from Alice Springs to Rotorua and decided it was best to take precautions for the rest of his trip. The first direct flight to the South Island was early Tuesday morning, so he was compelled to stay until then anyway, if he wanted to avoid suspicion.
Just as he'd decided on this itinerary, there was a loud knock at his door. He opened the door to see a police officer, no, two police officers, looking extremely stern. They asked him to accompany them to the police station, they needed to interview him further about the body he'd found in the mud pool.
At the police station, he had to wait for some time until Inspector Thompson became available. After some intensive questioning about the exact timing of his discovery of the body and when exactly the nurse had appeared on the scene, the Inspector began to question him about his dinner with Sally on Saturday night. When Clark had answered all of the questions as openly and honestly as he could, up to the point when he'd leaned against the wall in the alley beside Sally's apartment building, the Inspector stopped asking questions.
Inspector Thompson steepled his fingers in front of his mouth. Stared at Clark and said, "Young man, you're a *very* lucky man. You have good instincts. Remember that whenever you feel 'inexperienced' in the future."
Clark stared at him uncomprehendingly. Seeing the puzzled look on Clark's face, the Inspector relented and told Clark the shocking news that Sally Blondale had been arrested for the murder of her husband, Joe Blondale, the body found in the mud pool at Whakarewarewa Thermal Area. She'd confessed to the murder during further questioning about the finding of the body.
The police had become suspicious when they'd discovered that, even though she was only in her late twenties, she'd been married four times and in each case the husband had disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The pattern indicated a preference for good-looking men much younger than herself. When Clark asked why Sally had killed Joe, the Inspector shrugged and said that the only reason she'd given was that, "He was getting too old." They'd been unable to establish any other motive for the killing. Joe Blondale had been 22 when he died.
Clark exhaled sharply. So that was why Sally had been so angry when he didn't succumb to her advances. It looked like he had come *this* close to becoming her next "love" interest. Inspector Thompson smiled at the look of relief on Clark's face and said he could go back to his motel room after signing the revised statement waiting for him at the desk.
The policeman at the desk said that with a signed confession there wouldn't be any necessity for Clark to stay for the trial. However, Clark was asked to stay in the area until they had verified the confession, probably later in the week.
The remainder of the week sped by for Clark. He explored some more of the area while waiting for the police to give him permission to leave. The Fairy Springs were as beautiful as their name. Large brown and rainbow trout in the rivers on the way were fascinating. As he walked along the paths to the topmost pool, he fed the trout bread crumbs. At the topmost pool he found a natural spring, crystal clear water that showed the floor of the pool bubbling and swirling as if the bottom of the pool was boiling. However, he could tell that the water in the pool wasn't hot, just cool, clear water. The quiet ambiance of the surrounding bush and trees helped soothe him and keep his mind off his current problems.
By Thursday, the police had all the evidence they needed and gave Clark permission to leave. Inspector Thompson said they'd contact Clark through his parents if they needed to reach him. Friday morning Clark took the bus to the airport, noticing some of the things he'd overlooked on his trip in to Rotorua, like the metal bands on the telephone poles that he now knew were designed to keep the possums at bay.
When he arrived at the airport, Clark waited at the end of the air field, listened to the air traffic control tower and matched the speed and trajectory of the first plane heading south as he took off for the South Island.
Gliding over the South Island, Clark sighted the broad plain that he knew, from the map he'd memorized, was called the Canterbury Plains.
He spent the next few days hiking through the valleys at the foothills of the Southern Alps, meeting different people who often commented on his "Yank" accent and inevitably asked him, "How do you like the country?" He soon learned that the only appropriate answer was, "It's beautiful!" Nevertheless, these encounters made him think. It had never occurred to him before that he *had* an accent. That was something *other* people had. Now he knew that he did too. How strange. He began to wonder if *everything* was relative to one's own experience.
The mountain scenery was absolutely spectacular. Snow caps against a clear blue sky; clean, crisp air; and, the sounds of water falls greeted his senses at every turn.
After a few days of exploring the mountains and dodging the cheeky, green mountain parrots that tried to eat his pack and boots, he decided to head further south towards a kind of mental magnetism he could feel that seemed to come from the direction of the city of Dunedin.
The youth hostel had a mix of many kinds of people: students, aging hippies and other tourists trying to travel cheaply. Clark felt like he blended right in since he was letting his hair grow and was trying to grow his very first beard.
He made his weekly call to his parents and then headed for the Common Room. A number of the people at the hostel seemed to be very interested in the study of psychic phenomenon. They claimed that the land near Dunedin was a hub of psychic strength. Clark wondered if it was what had drawn him to this area.
Clark talked with some of the people who claimed to have psychic abilities. Mostly they talked about the unusually warm weather for this time of year, but then the conversation turned to the subject of parapsychology. John was a telepath. Lucinda a clairvoyant. Mary Anne had a minor kinetic ability. He discovered that they were all planning to stay at the hostel for dinner. They'd be in the communal kitchen fixing it as soon as George came back with fresh vegetables from the market. Tomorrow, Clark decided, he'd be sure to go to the market so he could be a part of this dinner group at the hostel. Tonight, however, he'd have to go elsewhere. When he left to eat, they were all having a lively discussion about charlatans and how they debased the whole study of parapsychology.
There was a tiny cafe a few doors down the street from the hostel. It was popular and crowded, so he had to sit with a stranger, a young woman who was the personification of a clean, wholesome, country girl. She had shoulder-length blond hair and would have looked right at home in jodhpurs and an English riding habit. Her name was Donna and she was from Texas. It suddenly felt like old home week for Clark, who was glad to meet someone who had actually heard of Kansas and didn't think his accent was unusual.
Clark felt as if he was drowning in Donna's clear blue eyes as the two of them stood motionless beside the fountain pool in Larnach Castle's gardens. They'd explored Dunedin together for the last three days, taking in the Octagon in the centre of town and Taiaroa Head on the peninsula, and were now taking advantage of the mild spell to soak in the atmosphere of the surrounding countryside.
He'd only known Donna for a few days but he felt he'd known her forever. He found her fun to be with. She was beautiful, vivacious and, best of all, a reminder of home. He hadn't realized how homesick he was until he'd heard her Texan accent.
When he'd suggested this picnic, she'd seemed little hesitant but had finally agreed. He'd wondered at the time if she was afraid he had some kind of sinister motive in asking her, but she'd been so happy during the trip to the peninsula he decided he must have been reading her wrong.
On the way to the picnic site in the grounds of Larnach Castle they'd laughed and joked. Now, here in these fragrant gardens, Clark felt that things were getting a little more serious. He sensed it was time to make his move. If he didn't kiss her now, he'd lose his nerve and it would never happen. Gently he pulled her closer, his lips hovering near hers.
Suddenly Donna pulled out of his arms and screamed! She became completely hysterical in a matter of seconds. She fell to the ground and tears ran down her face.
Trying to figure out exactly what he'd done to trigger this reaction, afraid he'd done exactly what he'd sworn he'd *never* to do, he said, "Donna, it's okay—did I hurt you? Please! Stop! I never meant to frighten you."
"Fire! Smoke! I can't breathe. Please, someone get me out of here. Please!" Donna was on her knees, gasping for air. "Please!"
"But Donna, there's no fire here. What is it? What's wrong?"
"The oil tanks! They're going to explode! Someone, please come!" Donna's sobs grew louder. Her skin was starting to peel as if she had a severe case of sunburn.
Clark's mind was in a whirl. What on earth was happening? Why was she talking about oil tanks? Why was her skin peeling? Clark grasped her hands to comfort her and felt a strong electrical current course through his body into the ground.
"The power lines, they're going to kill us all!" Sobs racked Donna's body.
"What power lines? Where?"
"The tanks—oil tanks—near the water—at the Harbour! Please! Hurry!"
Clark gently compelled Donna to lie on the ground and covered her with the blanket they'd been using for their picnic. "Donna, I'll only be a minute. Just lie quietly."
As he jumped into the sky, he could still hear her sobs. When he had sufficient height to see Otago Harbour he could see smoke billowing up and spreading over the town. Flying as fast as he'd ever done, he reached the petroleum storage facility in seconds. Doing his best to keep out of sight of the people below, he blew at the power line tower so that it fell away from the oil tanks. Then he contained the fire with his breath, surprised to find he could exhale it at frigid temperatures, until the firefighters arrived on the scene. Within a couple of minutes the fire was under control and the people trapped by the blaze were being rescued. Once he was sure the crisis was in the control of the firefighters, Clark flew back to the grounds of Larnach Castle and to Donna.
Donna was asleep. He flew back to the shore, stripped and dove into the waves to wash away the smell of the greasy smoke. After spinning to dry himself off, he washed his clothes in the ocean and dried them with his heat vision. Dressed and clean minutes later, he flew back to Donna. Sitting nearby in the gardens of the Castle, he waited for her to wake up.
"It's okay. I'm here."
"Oh, Clark! Please forgive me. I'm sorry. I should have told you what might happen."
At his quizzical look she exclaimed, "I've had these kind of 'seizures' since I was thirteen. Somehow I seem to suddenly have a total affinity with someone who is about to die a horrible death. I don't know what triggers the reaction. I should have told you what might happen before we came here. I'm sorry."
Donna buried her head in her hands. The skin on the back of her hands was almost back to normal. Clark was now having difficulty even believing that the whole event had actually taken place.
Clark reached out gently and touched her fingertips, coaxing her hands from hiding her face. "It's okay Donna, I was scared of what was happening to you for a minute there, that's all, I was more scared for you. But it wasn't too long before I realized that you were experiencing something I couldn't see. It was a relief to know that it wasn't just a reaction to me trying to kiss you." Clark gave her his best smile.
"Thank you, Clark," she gave him a tearful smile in return, "I'll make it up to you, honest."
Clark put his arm around her to comfort her and asked, "You've been having these 'experiences' since you were thirteen?"
"Uh uh. I was taken to lots of doctors and specialists. By the time I was fifteen my parents had me committed to a mental institution because the doctors insisted the phenomenon was only a product of hysteria."
Clark tightened his hold on her. "Then how did you get here?"
"Eventually, I only had the 'seizures' once or twice a year and the doctors released me. I looked for some place to go where I wouldn't be a 'freak'. Here there are people who understand. I don't have to spend all my time explaining my problem and the local hospital knows how to treat me."
Clark held her in his arms, silently comforting her until she was ready to get up and return to the city.
Clark did the driving on the way back to Dunedin. Donna turned on the car radio. "…And this just in. The fire at the Otago Petroleum Storage Facility is under control. Six people are injured and have been taken to Mater Hospital. One is in critical condition with third degree burns. Eye witnesses say it was a miracle that the power lines fell away from the oil tanks…"
Donna switched the radio off. "I guess I was in sync with the person with third degree burns. I'm so glad it wasn't as bad as my vision."
Clark reached over and clasped her hand in his as reassurance.
They rode silently for the next few minutes until Donna spoke "Clark, you understood my problem so quickly I was wondering if it might be more than just empathy. Have you ever been tested for extrasensory perception?"
The results of the tests on him were inconclusive. There was a minor indication of some telepathic capabilities. Clark had been hesitant about taking the tests. Nevertheless, he wanted to know if he really did have any other abilities beyond the ones he already knew about. After all the whole freezing breath thingamajig had come as a complete surprise.
Some of the students who were interested in psychic phenomena gave Clark the tests. He had tried as much as possible not to use his "special" abilities during the tests so he could get an accurate picture of any possible psychic abilities. Because the tests were inconclusive for mental telepathy, telekinesis and other "skills," Clark concluded privately that most if not all of his special abilities were probably physical. On the one hand this was good, he wasn't sure if he could handle any *more* special abilities, but on the other hand he was a little disappointed that he didn't have some kind of tangible explanation for at least some of them.
Donna appeared puzzled by the results. She conceded some consolation from the fact that although the tests only indicated minimal parapsychology abilities, they were still there. She wanted him to stay in Dunedin for further analysis, saying she wasn't convinced they had tapped his true potential.
Clark was really tempted. He liked being with Donna. Somehow her problems made his difficulties with his own "special" nature seem trivial by comparison. But what if her interest in him was just scientific? Once she knew he didn't have any real psychic ability would she lose interest? He debated what he should do over the next few days. But his decision was finally made for him by a question from Donna.
"Clark, why do you keep telling people you grew up on a farm in Kansas when it's patently untrue?"
"What…whatever do you mean? What makes you think I didn't?"
Donna clasped her fingers around his left wrist, stroking his fingers flat with her right hand as though she were checking out his palm to read. "Anyone who had spent as much time on a farm as you claim to have would have calluses on their hands. You don't. If your parents do have a farm in Kansas you either don't do much manual labor or, you have some way of doing the labour without getting calluses."
"Clark, I thought you maybe had some kinetic ability. But the tests show you don't. So what *is* the truth?"
"I…I don't know what you mean. I work to help my parents on their farm. I've been travelling for several weeks. Of course my hands don't show the work."
Donna gave him a tell-me-another look. "Clark, it's obvious that you've *never* had calluses. What are you trying to hide?"
"I have to make a phone call now. Please, can we discuss this later?"
"All right, I'll let you off this time. But I *do* expect an answer from you."
"So what do you think I should do? I can't tell her. I don't want to be studied like something in a test tube."
"Clark, just do what you think is right. Can you trust her to keep your secret?"
"I don't know, Mom. I just don't know. After all, she can't hide her own secrets because she has no control over when they'll appear. I can control mine. Since she has no choice about whether or not she can keep her abilities hidden, I don't know if she could keep *my* secret."
"Clark, my advice is to make up some excuse and leave. You know I've always been afraid that you'd be discovered. It's not like here in Smallville where you're known and accepted. You'd be just a 'thing' to those people. Get out, and make it soon."
"I know, Dad, but I like her. I don't think she'd hurt me."
"I'm not saying she'd intentionally hurt you. I'm saying just having the secret out would hurt you."
"Jon, don't be such a pessimist. We both know that Clark will do the right thing. Clark, how's your laundry holding up?"
"Don't change the subject."
Clark laughed. "Mom. Dad. I'll figure something out. Don't worry. I'll talk to you next week. I love you."
"Us too," Both Mom and Dad chorused. They hung up.
"Donna. I asked you here because I think I owe you an explanation and I'd like to do it where we can't be overheard."
Clark had "reserved" the Common Room at the hostel. This meant that he'd put his tie on the doorknob of the room as Donna entered, the hostel's signal for privacy. It was a more seasonal day so there was a fire in the fireplace. Clark led Donna over to one of the chairs beside the fireplace.
Donna looked directly into his eyes. "It's about time." She grinned wickedly. "I've been waiting for you to 'fess up." Clark swallowed. "This isn't going to be easy for me. Only my parents know about me and we've hidden this since I was a baby. We've always been afraid that 'someone' would lock me up and study and dissect me. You know what that's like."
"Yes, but my *parents* did that to me."
"They probably thought they were doing it to help you."
Donna just snorted.
"If I'm put away, there will be no possibility that it's with *my* benefit in mind."
Donna looked at him with concern. "What could you possibly be hiding that people would attack you for?"
"Maybe if I showed you it would be easier." Clark stood up and walked over the fireplace. He rolled up his sleeve and plunged his hand into the centre of the flames.
"Clark! Don't! You'll be burned." Donna jumped up and grabbed his arm to pull his hand from the flame.
He put his arm out straight and rotated his hand so that she could see all sides. He was obviously not harmed.
Donna just stared at him. "How is that possible?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't know. My adoptive parents think I might be the result of a government genetic experiment. They found me when I was a baby and kept me. They don't know exactly how I got to the field they found me in, or who put me there."
They returned to the fireside chairs and sat in silence.
"So you don't have calluses because you can't be injured by everyday things?"
"And, you think if people know about you they'll try to find a chink in your immunity or how to duplicate it?"
"I don't know, but you see why I have to be careful. I don't want you to have to lie and pretend for me either. I think the best solution for both of us is for me to leave right now so you won't be in any danger." Clark began to rise out of his chair.
"No!" Donna grabbed his arm and held on. "You can trust me. I wouldn't tell anyone. I know what being different is like."
"I know you do." Clark didn't know what else to say. She, if anyone, knew exactly what is was like to be different. In fact she knew better than anyone. Clark took Donna's fingers in his hands and stroked them gently. How could he possibly describe what this meant to him?
"Look, Clark, you're really lucky. You can hide what you are."
Clark nodded, slowly, trying to put some structure on the conflicting emotions he was feeling right now. On the one hand relief that Donna accepted that he was different, on the other hand guilt that he hadn't told her the whole truth. .
"In fact, if you avoid doing manual labor as part of your everyday life no one will ever be able to detect the discrepancy I noticed."
Clark stared at her. "You're right! That's what I've been doing already, using others' expectations as camouflage." Clark was cheered by Donna's confirmation of his own survival instinct. He wondered if he should tell her more about his other "special" abilities, but decided to wait.
"Good! Now, if you're through with the demonstration, maybe we can talk about what we're going to do next. I'm starved, can we talk while we eat?"
Clark grinned. "Thank you. Thank you so much… for understanding. Yes, I can talk and eat at the same time, it's one of my less well known skills." He clasped her hand in his and, retrieving his tie on the way out of the Common Room, took Donna to dinner at the cafe where they'd first met.
Fiji was fabulous, though he'd gotten away from Suva, its largest city, as fast as he could. It had seemed so crowded and dirty after his stay on the South Island. However, the rest of Fiji was extraordinary. He'd visited tribes in the remotest corners of the islands and learned some really amazing things which he'd put in his latest story for Mr. Isaacs. He'd really, he told himself, have to come back for a longer visit.
He was most grateful to the chief who'd showed him the making of a calming herbal tea. He'd needed that after the trauma of leaving New Zealand.
Donna and he had started to develop a real relationship. Or so he'd thought. At first he'd wanted to leave, but knowing that Donna accepted his "special" nature as she knew it, he'd changed his mind. He'd then wanted to stay in Dunedin for the rest of his vacation. However, after he'd made his feelings known to her, Donna had thrown cold water over his enthusiasm. During their last dinner together she'd told him she understood his natural desire to stay, but that he should continue with his original plans. When he'd protested, she'd declared that they'd always be friends, and insisted he write to her, but added that she knew theirs could never be a deeper relationship.
Challenging her assertion, Clark asked her how she could possibly know that and she'd said, "Clark, when you meet the one you're meant to be with, you'll *know*. There'll be something inside of you, something so fundamentally *right* in you, that will tell you *this* is the person you were meant to be with. I don't have that feeling about you. Can you honestly say you have it with me?"
Clark had been forced to admit that his feelings for Donna were not the kind of fundamental link that she'd described. Nevertheless, Clark had thought a lot about Donna's assertion in the days since they'd parted. He'd been very close to falling in love with her. However, Donna hadn't reciprocated his feelings and during their last conversation she'd said what she needed was someone who was "normal"— that one person with "special" qualities in a relationship was more than enough. Clark had been dismayed. Although, he had originally wanted to get out of Dunedin without anyone knowing his true nature, when he was given the opportunity, it hurt. He'd flown halfway to Indonesia before he realized that what he was really trying to escape were his own feelings. He'd returned to Dunedin, said his good-byes and then gone on to Fiji.
Nonetheless, he'd begun to think of his other relationships in terms of how they measured against this "fundamentally right" standard. This had led inevitably to thinking about his broken relationship with Lana. Their relationship hadn't been "fundamentally right" either. It had in fact been one of simple friendship. And now he realized it had been a good relationship until they'd tried to make it more than that. They'd been trying to force their relationship into something it wasn't. Now that he understood this, maybe he could do something about it. When he got back to Kansas he'd talk it over with Lana, maybe they could get back to their old friendship. And, if not, well maybe he could learn to treasure any future relationships he had for what they really were meant to be, and not for what he hoped they'd be.
After taking a few more days' rest, he mailed off his article on the tribes of Fiji to Mr. Isaacs and then moved on to Hawaii.
He was looking right into the mouth of the erupting Mauna Loa volcano on the Big Island. The words that came immediately to mind were "spectacular" and "awesome." On his way to the source of the erupting crater he'd seen the roads buried in cooling lava and the boiling seas where the molten lava poured from the land into the ocean. He found the whole thing just captivating.
During his rest in Fiji he'd come to the conclusion that the reason he was so fascinated with these kinds of wonders of nature was because they were something that was even more exceptional than his own "special" skills. The sight of this erupting volcano only confirmed this feeling.
Morning, two days later, found him watching the sun rise over the crater on top of Haleakala and he marvelled at the "dawn of all creation" feeling that this produced. He could understand why the original Polynesians had called this place "the house of the sun."
He spent another day at Kaanapali Beach so he could write the "tourist in Hawaii" piece for Mr. Isaacs and shopped for presents for his parents in Lahaina.
He'd been away from home almost two months and was starting to feel the need to be back on familiar ground. He'd had a wonderful trip, but to quote a more famous person from Kansas, "there's no place like home."
He decided to drop off at the Grand Canyon on his way home. Partly for old time’s sake, but mostly to see it with his new perspective. It was after all one of the largest, most spectacular natural phenomena around. This time though he'd go right down to the bottom and look at it from that angle.
Floating down the last few feet, Clark landed on some shale beside the river. The view was breathtaking and he stood and savoured the wonder of it all.
"Who are you? What do you think you're doing here?"
Clark turned around to see his interrogator was a native boy of about eight years of age. "I'm just seeing what the canyon looks like from here. Is that a problem?"
"Yes, I am of the Hsuw Jara tribe, we are one of the Guardians of the Grand Canyon. You are not welcome here. White Man!" The boy, no more than five feet tall if that, stood with his feet apart and his arms crossed, almost daring Clark with his body language to take issue with what he'd said.
"Oh, I hadn't realized that, I guess I'll be going now." Clark turned as if to follow the trail he'd seen to his left.
"How did you get here? I didn't see you come and I've been sitting here a long time."
Clark turned back, tried to think of a way of phrasing his answer to hide the fact that he'd flown down—when a stone hit his shoulder. Clark whirled around to see a small girl, dressed in native clothing and carrying a sling shot. He slowly walked over to her with his hand outstretched. "I think you should give that to me. You might hurt someone."
"Mara, you idiot!" The boy behind him groaned. "Now he'll tell on us."
Clark took the sling shot and asked, "Tell who? What?"
The boy looked at him sullenly. "Nothing. What are you going to do? And why aren't you bleeding?"
"Well, I'm going back the way I came and the stone didn't cut me."
"It did so hit you, and you never answered my question about how you got here."
"Persistent, aren't you? Now where are your parents? I think I'll take you home before I go."
Mara looked scared. "We don't have parents, Grampa takes care of us."
"Yeah, and Grampa knows *everything*. He'll make you talk."
Clark sighed, but he felt there might just be another story here and said, "Take me to your leader." He'd noticed furtive movements in the shadows and was pretty sure he'd seen a mountain lion. To be safe, he thought he should get these kids away from here.
The entrance to the village was hidden by an outcropping of rocks. If Lope hadn't been directing him, he'd have had a lot of difficulty finding his way to the village on foot. Clark gazed around as he entered the village. He noted the small doors cut into the sides of the cliff, indicating entrances to homes. There were communal fireplaces and small groups of women around them diligently making dinner.
As they entered the third dwelling place on the right, Clark heard a quavery voice ask, "Now, Lope, what have you and Mara done now? How many times must I tell you not to talk to strangers?" Grampa appeared to Clark to be old enough to be at least the children's great-grandfather.
Mara said "But, grandfather *I* didn't talk to him, Lope did."
"Yeah, you only hit him with a rock."
Clark ignored them and said to the old man, "I'm sorry if I've intruded. I didn't realize this area of the canyon was restricted. Lope was explaining that to me when Mara had some difficulty with her sling shot. I'm sure she didn't mean to hit me. I'm not hurt, so there's no harm done."
Grampa looked skeptical. "You're polite, I'll give you that. Yes this area is restricted, away from the main tourist areas in the National Park, but we do get some tourists. We just ask that you to stay on the trails or the river, respect whatever you find, and clean up after yourself. We don't want people trampling all over this sacred area."
"I understand, sir. I just wanted to bring the children home and make sure they were safe. I thought I saw a mountain lion close to where we met."
Lope's ears perked right up. "A mountain lion, hey Grampa, I almost saw a mountain lion!"
"Yes, and almost got eaten by one, too. When will you ever learn? Now young man," he turned back to face Clark, "just exactly what were you doing in this area of the canyon?"
"Like I told Lope, I was just looking at the canyon from this level. I've seen it from above a number of times and wanted to see if it was even more remarkable from the floor."
"Grampa, ask him how he got here. He wouldn't answer me."
"Lope, don't interrupt your elders." Grampa turned back to Clark, "Well, young man, how exactly did you get here."
"I followed the trail from the rim, and then followed the river."
Grampa looked Clark straight in the eye. "Where's your mule? Just as I thought you didn't come by mule. Your clothes are too clean for you to have been walking for the three to four hours it takes to walk here from the rim. Lope's right. You *are* a mystery."
"See, Mara, I was right."
"Children, that's enough, now go out and play. Dinner will be ready soon."
As soon as the children had left the dwelling, Grampa turned to face Clark again. "I think you should go now. But, before you do, I'd like to tell you a story."
The old man settled down into a crouched sitting position. Clearing his throat he said, "We are the people of the Hsuw Jara. We are an ancient people and we know the Grand Canyon is the origin of the human race. My great- grandfather had a vision once about a new kind of creature coming from the Canyon. He saw a man soar as the eagles soar. My great-grandfather thought that this was the Canyon releasing another creature from itself. When I first heard about airplanes, I thought that was the creature he'd seen, and that he'd mistaken a machine for a living creature. But now, I think he really saw a man fly in his vision. I don't have my great- grandfather's talent, but when I look at you I see the mark of a flying man."
Clark was startled.
"It has been my wish, ever since I heard my great- grandfather's story, just one time in my life to see a man fly. So before you leave I would like to ask one thing of you. Let me see you leave the way you came. Let me see a man fly."
"How…?" Clark laughed nervously… yet he didn't feel in any danger. "I mean, what makes you think I can fly?"
The old man's eyes sparkled. "You don't have to worry, I won't tell anyone. You're one of the few people I've spoken to outside of the village for more than thirty years. I promise I won't say a word to anyone. No one will ever know. Please, indulge an old man."
"Well, okay, but I hope you won't be disappointed." Clark turned to leave. The old man followed.
Behind a large freestanding rock, Clark shook hands with the old man, smiled, and floated up off the ground. He could see the mixed look of wonder, satisfaction and astonishment on the old man's face. Grinning mischievously he waved goodbye and zoomed straight up into the sky, making his speed fast enough to be out of sight within seconds but slow enough to give the old man his wish of seeing a man fly.
*** Clark landed gently behind the barn. He straightened his clothes, removed his backpack and put on his glasses. He walked through the barn towards the house. He could hear Mom and Dad preparing dinner in the kitchen.
Despite quietly opening the door, he couldn't sneak past his Mom, who whirled around from where she stood at the stove and ran to hug him. Dad slapped him on the back and gave him one of his tremendous bear hugs.
Questions flew thick and fast over the dinner table. He'd been gone two months and there was a lot to catch up on that couldn't be covered in weekly three minute phone calls. They commented on how fit he looked, how long his hair had grown, chuckled over the story of his failed attempt at growing a beard and admired his mustache. On the whole, he felt sated with travel and now all he wanted was to spend more time with people he knew. Most of all with these two people who were at the core of his life.
He leaned back in his chair and reveled in the happiness on the faces in front of him. When they asked what his overall impressions of his trip, had been, he simply said that he'd learned a lot about himself and his abilities.
But as he sat there soaking up the love and acceptance his parents were radiating, he felt that most of all he'd learned that he was on a journey of discovery, both of himself and of the world around him. A long winding road of adventure. The trip this summer had been just the first few steps along that road.
"So Clark, now what? You've got a couple of weeks before your next semester starts."
"Well, Dad, I thought I'd write one final article for Mr. Isaacs as a summary of my trip, and then think some more about the kind of career I'd like to follow that uses my best skills."
"What would that be, Clark?"
"Well, Dad, I was thinking maybe something that needed a good writer, who was able to travel at the drop of a hat," Clark grinned wickedly. "Seriously, though, I thought some kind of career where I could help people would be the most satisfying. I like to help people."
The conversation wandered on to other subjects and eventually back to local concerns.
"Lana called me yesterday to find out when you'd be coming home. I think she misses you, Clark."
"Thanks, Mom. I want to talk to her. Now that I know she wants to talk to me it should make it a lot easier for us to talk out the problem we had when I left." Clark gave her a lopsided grin.
The next two weeks just flew by.
Clark visited Mr. Isaacs and did a follow-up story summarizing his adventures. Everyone he met in town told him how much they'd enjoyed his stories and hoped he'd continue doing them.
Everyone that is except Lana. Two days after he arrived back in Smallville, he met Lana at the drugstore soda fountain. For the first few moments of their conversation he couldn't understand why they'd been so mad at each other. But within minutes she'd made a couple of disparaging remarks about his mustache and the length of his hair. She wanted him to trim both before he was seen by her friends.
"Lana, I like my hair and mustache. If your friends don't, that's their problem, not mine. I'm not changing to please them."
This opposition to her will seemed to come as a shock to Lana. Clark realized that this was probably the first time in years, other than their argument earlier this summer, that he'd defied her wishes in anything. Lana had always been a very strong-minded person. She had very definite ideas about what she wanted and how other people, especially Clark, should behave to meet these expectations. Now Clark realized that he'd almost always conformed to her expectations.
"But, Clark, they're my *friends*. Their opinion means a lot to me. It's such a little thing to ask. Please, Clark, do it for me."
"Lana, we've been friends since we were little. Why is what they want more important than what I want?"
"Oh, you just don't understand. They're the kind of people that will be important, go places in this world. I want them to like me, treat me as one of them. Please, Clark, please understand."
Clark sighed. At one time Lana's guidance had helped him know the boundaries of acceptable behavior for a "normal" person. Now he knew Lana's inflexible ideas weren't right for him. He'd learned in his travels to listen to and trust his own instincts and knew now that he'd never regain his childhood friendship.
"Lana, I understand. I just want to be *me*, the person that *I* was meant to be. I have to go see Mr. Isaacs now. I'll be seeing you around."
Just as Clark got up to leave, Pete Ross sat down at their table. Clark listened to Pete talk about his pre-law program for a few minutes then again made his excuses, and went to his appointment.
On the last night before he returned to College, lying in his bed staring at the ceiling, he thought of all the things that had happened to him on his trip this past summer.
It had been a great summer. Now he had to find some way to do this again next year. After experiencing Donna's special nature, he wanted to learn more about different notions of mind and body control. Remembering Fiji and the Grand Canyon he figured that next time he should spend less time "touring" and more time with the native people in the countries he visited. He'd have to do some research to find out where he could go to do both— India or China perhaps. He didn't want Mom and Dad always supporting this globetrotting habit he'd acquired, so he'd also have to find some ways to earn money over the next eight months to achieve his goal.
Clark turned over on his side to prepare for sleep. He could hear Mom and Dad chattering away in the kitchen, exclaiming over the photographs from his trip for the umpteenth time. He smiled. It had been great to travel to so many exotic places, to have a taste of the long road that lay ahead of him, but it was *so* good to be home.