By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rated: PG (References to violence and death)
Submitted: February 2002
Summary: The story of a young man coming to terms with the death of his hero.
Warning: Clark is dead in this story. It's not technically a deathfic, since it starts after his death, but it does deal with some of the consequences of his demise.
A few quick notes:
This is the most saddening story I have ever written. It ends on a good note, but there's a lot of pain before that. Obviously, I still think it's worth the read, but if you're in the mood for something cheery (like most of my other short fics), look elsewhere for now.
The "Church of Superman," which is mentioned briefly in this story, is adapted from Kingdom Come. This story has nothing else to do with that book, but I thought the writers deserved credit for the idea.
The original "Cape of Good Hope" (the southern tip of Africa) was not so named because it was a cheerful place. Rather, it was given the name because the waters there were so treacherous that even the most skilled navigators could only hope for the best. Of course, those who survived the rough journey were probably rather elated when they made it through.
Thanks to Gerry Anklewicz and Carol Malo for beta reading. Their comments and suggestions were extremely helpful.
Snow fell on the city of Metropolis, impartially covering mansions and slums with a soft white blanket of innocence. In the morning, much of that snow would be driven over, laboriously shoveled away, or perhaps just darkened by pollutants. Those doing the shovelling, the driving, and, quite likely, the polluting, would probably find the snow to be a nuisance, at best. Still, some would appreciate it. The quiet, unassuming beauty would not be lost on every soul, nor the opportunity for skiing, sledding, and snowball fights.
That, however, would be in the morning. That night, Jeremy was appreciating the snow for his own reasons. It meant that he had the museum to himself. The museum in question was, of course, the Superman Museum — Metropolis' number one attraction. The building had originally been the Church of Superman, created shortly after the death of the world- famous hero. Some grieving follower of Metropolis' most famous citizen had taken it into his head that Superman was actually some sort of god or prophet, and had built a church dedicated to the departed champion.
It had done quite well for a few months, but then Lois Lane had come out of retirement to write one more article. She explained to the world that Superman, while certainly extraordinary, had not been divine. She told them that he had never wanted to be worshipped, that he had always been uncomfortable with the reverence and awe with which he had frequently been greeted. She said that Superman had stood for ideals. To deify him would, in the minds of the congregation, set those ideals beyond the ability of humans to attain, and would therefore defeat Superman's very purpose. Superman should be remembered- honored even- but not worshipped.
If it had been anyone else, the message would likely have gone unheard, but this was Lois Lane. It wasn't just that she and her late husband had been Superman's best friends. Lois had always had a way with words, and her last article, a heartfelt plea, had been her best.
So, the Church of Superman had been converted into a museum. It was still open twenty-four hours a day (an unusual decision, but one which had been unanimously approved), still staffed entirely by volunteers, and still brought in a great many donations for the Superman Foundation. The focus, however, had changed. It was no longer a place of worship, but rather a place to contemplate the life of an extraordinary hero and to honor all that he had stood for.
The staff had long since left for the day, trusting that no vandals would dare desecrate the memory of the city's most revered citizen. The museum was, of course, still open to those who wished to reflect rather than to tour, but the snow discouraged all but the most serious of visitors. Jeremy stood in the main room of the museum, staring at the central display case. Inside, a tattered red cape hung suspended by wires so thin as to be invisible.
"You were my idol," he said to the spirit of the cape's owner. "I wanted to grow up to be you. I was never sure how, but at that age, I wasn't too worried. You stood for everything that was right in the world. You stood for hope.
"And then you died on me. It wasn't even a heroic death. That, I might have been able to accept. But no — you didn't die saving the world, again. There was no giant asteroid. No nuclear bomb. Not even a crazed megalomaniac. Just a stupid street gang, armed with Kryptonite, guns, and dumb luck. By the time they were done with you, this red rag was the only thing that was even remotely intact. You died an ignominious death, and you took my hope with you.
"DAMN YOU!" A confused anger overtook Jeremy, and he pounded on the display case. It rattled under the assault, and Jeremy jumped back, terrified. What had he done? Had he destroyed the last remnants of Superman, a man who was still, deep down, his idol? What did that mean? Would it be good, or unspeakably bad? What would the world think? He watched as his life teetered on a wobbly pedestal.
The case stopped shaking, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Then, a sound came from inside the glass. It was probably rather soft, but to Jeremy's frightened and guilty ears it sounded as deafening as the funeral bells which were still somewhere on the upper floors of the building.
Hesitantly, he approached the case. Something had fallen from some previously undiscovered pocket in the cape. No, there were two somethings. A pair of glasses and a wedding ring.
Jeremy stared at the objects in the case. Why would Superman be carrying glasses and a wedding ring? Without really thinking about it, Jeremy shifted the glass case enough so that he could get the two items. It wasn't all that difficult. The case had been designed more to protect the cape from casual touches than anything else. Its theft was unthinkable. Rather, the museum's curators had taken a lesson from Plymouth Rock.
For years, tourists had come to the pilgrims' famous landing site and gone right up to the rock. Each visitor had run his or her hands over the landmark stone, rubbing away a minuscule part of it. Before anyone had really noticed, the now smoothly polished rock was a third of its previously recorded size. So, the site's caretakers had built a platform around the rock. Not enough to make it truly secure, but enough that the populace could no longer casually and unthinkingly destroy the relic they'd come to visit.
The case was designed on the same principle. Had there been any alarms, they would have already been set off by Jeremy's pounding. So, he just turned the glass until a corner was hanging off the stand, reached in, and grabbed the glasses and the ring. Then, he carefully moved the glass back into place, and walked out.
When he got home, he still wasn't entirely sure why he'd taken the things. Maybe he'd just wanted to cover up his crime. Maybe it was the burning questions that the seemingly ordinary objects raised by their very existence. Maybe some instinct told him that he should find out the answers to those questions before letting anyone else know that they had even been asked. Maybe it was a little of everything.
Jeremy decided to put the question of motivation aside, and turned to examine his loot. One was a simple pair of glasses with… no prescription. The other was a wedding ring, an unbroken band of precious metal… with an inscription on the inside. "Clark- my love, my life, my soul. Lois 10/6/96"
Going to his computer, Jeremy did a little searching, and quickly filled in the last names. Clark Kent and Lois Lane had been married on that date. So, who was Clark Kent? THAT search turned up even more. Articles written with an elegant simplicity, numerous awards, and… a picture… of a man wearing the very glasses that Jeremy had in front of him. A man who otherwise looked remarkably like Superman. A man whose "missing persons" report had been filed the day after Superman had died.
So, Superman had been Clark Kent. Or had Clark Kent been Superman? Strange how important that seemingly trivial question was. If Superman had been Clark Kent, why had he decided to pretend to be so… ordinary? If Clark had been Superman, though, that meant that Superman hadn't existed because he was an alien. He'd existed because Clark Kent had been an extraordinary human being. In that case, Jeremy's childhood fantasies hadn't been so far wrong, after all… The thought was too much to take in. He had to find the answer, and there was only one person who could tell him. Lois Lane.
A quick directory search turned up her number. He glanced at the clock. Early morning. Lois might not be awake yet, and Jeremy hadn't slept all night. He was excited by his discoveries, but he wanted to be clear-headed when he spoke with the famed reporter.
He went to bed, but his mind whirled with thoughts and questions and implications. When he finally did manage to get to sleep, it was a tense, restless slumber, filled with strange dreams.
When he awoke, his mind was even more of a confused tangle than when he'd gone to sleep. He forced himself to eat breakfast, hoping his mind would clear at least a little as he finished waking up, then dialed Lois Lane's number.
The image of a grey-haired woman was on his screen a few moments later. The wrinkles on her face could not yet hide the fact that she had clearly been strikingly beautiful. "Hello?"
"Yes. Who are you?"
"What? Oh. I'm Jeremy. I have some questions, and you're the only one who can answer them for me. I'd like to come over and talk with you."
"I don't give interviews anymore."
"Wait! Don't hang up! I… found some things that belonged to your husband."
He watched as her finger stopped, frozen over the disconnect button. She stared at him. "What?"
"His ring and glasses," Jeremy explained, holding the items up to the camera. "I found them. I'd like to talk to you about it, but I don't want to do it over the phone."
"I see. Come on over." Jeremy took down directions to Hyperion Avenue, then hung up. Ten minutes later, he was at her door.
Lois took the ring from Jeremy with a look of wonder. She examined it for a while, smiled, then held it to her heart. Jeremy politely ignored the tears and waited. Time stood still.
After a while, Lois opened her eyes, and took the glasses, too. Jeremy felt like an outsider to the bittersweet reunion.
"Where did you find these?"
"They were in… his cape."
"His cape? … I see… Hmm, so that's where he kept them. I never knew. How did you find them?"
"Well, they fell out when I… sort of… banged on the glass."
"You banged on the glass? Why?"
"I was angry, confused. Mrs. Kent… Ms. Lane…"
Lois looked at the two cherished items in her hands and said, "Lois."
"Lois, then. I… When I was born, Superman was a fact of life. He'd been around long enough that people were starting to forget what life had been like before he suddenly showed up. When I was a child, I realized that there were very few things in the world that I could really count on. The sky wasn't always blue- sometimes it was cloudy or grey or black. The sun didn't always rise- some days, I couldn't see it at all. I knew, though, that if there was something wrong in my life, my parents would fix it. When you're that age, your parents can do anything. The other thing I knew was that if there was something wrong in the world, Superman would fix it.
"He was always there, and I thought he always would be. When something seemed to be too much, I'd look up and smile, knowing that Superman was up there, somewhere. Sometimes, I even managed to see him. In my daydreams, I would pretend to be Superman. It sounds silly now, but I wanted to grow up to be Superman. I figured that if I was good enough, true enough, and worked hard enough, someday I'd learn how to fly.
"Superman could do anything. He was my hero. He was my idol. He was everything that was right with the world.
"Then, when I was in my early teens, just trying to figure out life in the world of adults, it happened- Superman died. A sudden, shocking, ordinary death. It was impossible. It couldn't be real. And yet, there it was. It had happened. Suddenly, everything that was right with the world… wasn't.
"It was a few years before I could bear to go into the museum. When I did, just last night, the disappointment, the feeling of betrayal- it was too much.
"He's been dead for years now, and I'm still trying to come to terms with it…"
"So am I," said Lois softly.
Jeremy looked up, remembered that there was actually someone else in the room, and then remembered just whose tear-streaked face was in front of him. "Ms. Lane… Lois… I'm so sorry… I didn't mean to…"
"No. No, you didn't mean to. You needed to say that, for yourself, and I'm glad you did. It helped me, too. Please, go on."
Jeremy stood there, amazed by the strength of the woman in front of him. "Well, like I said, I was angry and confused, and so I hit the glass. It teetered, and I thought it was all going to fall. I was horrified. Then, just when it looked like everything would be fine after all, I heard something fall. I grabbed the ring and the glasses- I'm still not sure why- and ran home."
"Then you found out what they meant, and came to me."
"Right. I need to know- who was he, really?"
Lois looked at the young man before her, and immediately understood the question. "Clark. He was Clark."
"Then, your article… when you said that we shouldn't separate him from us by worshipping him…"
"He was the most truly human man I ever knew."
"I understand that now."
The two of them talked for hours. Lois told Jeremy everything about Clark and her life with him. She told him about those first few days after his death- living through the chaos… the crime, the riots, the masses grieving over the loss of a man they'd never truly known. She explained how she had filed a missing person's report, hoping against hope, but knowing that it would at least provide a reasonable cover. She told him how she had quietly struggled with her grief, and how she had quit her job and walked away. She talked about that time when she had looked at the world again, and suddenly discovered the Church of Superman. Her love, her loss, her turmoil- it all came pouring out… years of pent-up emotions.
When it was done, they sat there quietly, breathing, thinking, remembering… existing. Then, Jeremy broke the silence. "Lois, with your permission, I'd like to write a book."
"The story- it deserves to be told, and the people- they need to know. They'll never understand, otherwise. They'll go on thinking he was some otherworldly being doing things no one else could do. They need to know about Clark Kent."
Lois sighed. "You're right. I tried, with that article, but it wasn't enough. They need to know. It's not like there's anyone else to protect. Jonathan and Martha died of old age years ago, and Clark and I… we couldn't have kids. So, it's down to just me, and speaking for myself, this is more important than just me. It needs to be written, and… God, this is hard to admit… I'm too close to the story. Oh, if Perry were here to see me now…" Lois took a deep breath, and said the words. "Write it, Jeremy."
Eighty Years Later…
"My name is Jeremy, and I am Superman's descendant. No, not genetically. That would be impossible. For, you see, Superman never really existed. Oh, sure- there was a man out there who flew around and saved people, but he wasn't a god in tights named Superman.
"He was a man named Clark Kent, a man who, despite his extraordinary abilities, was most remarkable for his simple humanity. To Clark and a precious few loved ones, Superman was a disguise, created to allow him and his family some privacy.
"Of course, Superman quickly became more than a disguise, in no small part because of the influence of Lois Lane. He became a set of ideals, a living symbol of all that was good in the world. I share those ideals, and I am doing my part to make sure they live on. In so doing, I make myself Superman's descendant.
"If I am the descendant of Superman, however, I must also be the descendant of the woman who helped make him what he was. The real story of Superman is actually the story of two people- Lois Lane and Clark Kent…"
Lloyd looked up from the book he was reading, and glanced around the room. He was sitting on a bench in the Lois and Clark museum. Once, it had been the Superman museum. The book had changed that. The walls, which had once been filled with exhibits about Superman's feats, were now dedicated to Lane and Kent. There were articles they'd written, articles about them, and memorabilia. A case behind him was filled with their Kerth awards.
In the center of the room, there was a case with an odd assortment of items. The tattered cape still hung right where it had always been, but some other objects had been added. There was a pair of glasses. There were two wedding rings. There were two Daily Planet press badges. Finally, there was an outdated laptop. The computer didn't really symbolize Lois Lane as well as the glasses or the cape worked for Clark/Superman, but the museum's board hadn't found anything more appropriate. After all, Lois had never needed symbols such as the cape or the glasses distinguish different sides of herself. The idea of an empty container of chocolate ice cream had been considered and rejected as too frivolous. They'd ended up putting that in a side case, next to the blow-up of the Oxford English Dictionary's entry on the word "chumpy" and its etymology. The laptop, it had been decided, contained much of Lois' essence. Stored on its carefully maintained hard drive were some old articles, some letters she'd written, and the original manuscript for her popular romance novel.
A man walked into the room. He was dressed in clothing even more outdated than the primitive computer in the display case. Lloyd spared a moment to consider what the oddly- dressed man must be seeing. No doubt the man assumed that Lloyd was just another happy citizen of the boring society known as "Utopia," come to contemplate its founders and to read the book that had started it all. Sickening, really.
Lloyd closed the book and stared at the cover. "The Cape of Good Hope, by Jeremy Tempus," it said. Quietly, so as not to be overheard by the strange newcomer, Lloyd spoke to the spirit of the author. "I hate you, Grandpa."