By Richard Frantz Jr.
Submitted: December 2001
Summary: A familiar black-robed figure with a scythe appears to Clark. Is it Clark's time? Or something else?
Comments appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org
[Disclaimer: Clark Kent, etc, are not my property and are used solely for noncommercial purposes.]
Clark stood and just looked out across the fields, towards the lowering sun. His chores were done and he could enjoy the peace and quiet of Smallville's evening. There was still an hour or two until sunset when the sky would go beautiful colors, a promise that tomorrow would be another day, that there was hope. His literary soul played with different metaphors for tomorrow.
"Clark Jerome Kent? Would you have the exact time?" asked a cold, cultured, voice.
Clark started; he hadn't heard anyone approach, even with his remarkable hearing. He turned and looked at death standing there. At least it looked pretty much the way people described death. A black robe. A scythe. A dead white face and hands. At least it looked like death if you allowed for death being a woman. Seemingly slim and young, but with deep mysterious eyes. Her black hair poked out of the collar of her robe, but the ends were frosted white with age. He stared.
"Excuse me, you are Clark Jerome Kent, correct?"
Clark didn't speak, but he nodded. Then, trying one of his newest abilities, he tried to stare beneath the robe and see if he was looking at a walking skeleton or if this was just an incredible hoax by a human. And nothing happened. He blinked.
"What's the matter?" she asked, pulling out a small hourglass from within her robes. She peered at it closely. Then she turned it upside down and continued to peer at it while the grains of sand flowed into what was now the UPPER bulb. He saw it: the grains, little glowing specks of gold, flowed the same way, at the same rate, no matter how she held it. But that was impossible, wasn't it?
The image of the impossible confronting him somehow loosened secrets he normally wouldn't have admitted. "I can't see through you."
"Possibly that's because there's nothing there," she offered amicably. She returned her attention to the hourglass.
"If there's nothing there then I should see what's behind you."
"Maybe there's nothing there either."
"Maybe everything is a figment of your imagination. That's an idea popular with writers. And with people who want to deny my existence."
Clark just gaped.
"I seem to be a few minutes early—"
"For part of you to die, of course," she snapped. Then she continued in her calm, cold voice "but the place isn't quite right."
"I don't think I'm ready to die."
"I told you I was a few minutes early." Her hand suddenly shot out and rested on his wrist, gently but firmly. All around the world blurred like in the Wizard of Oz when the tornado blows everything else away and the viewer stays fixed. When it stabilized they were looking down a slope at a small house, about a mile away, in the middle of a cornfield. It didn't look much different from his own home. "Now this is the correct place for your death."
"But I feel fine. Why am I going to die?" Clark protested.
"You feel fine because it isn't all of you that is going to die. Look down at that house. See anything?"
"It's a …house."
He stared at it. There was a fluffy cloud around the porch… "It's on fire!"
"Look closer still. Look inside."
He focused his vision into the house, not finding anything at first. Until, in the back corner of the house he found a small nursery. And in the nursery a crib. And in the crib two babies wrapped in blankets. The door to the nursery was closed, and the fire was at the front but building quickly. Soon the smoke or the fire would get to the sleeping infants.
"Today you'll watch. And your innocence will die. That's what I'm here for."
Clark stared at the fire. He was torn. On the one hand he wanted to help. On the other what could he do? He'd been taught the importance of hiding what made him odd. But if he limited himself to a normal human's running speed, to what a normal human could do, he wouldn't get there in time.
Death checked the little glass in her hand.
Clark hesitated. There might be people around…
Death checked the glass again. Her hand tightened on the scythe.
Somehow that was enough for Clark to decide. He started to run. First at a sprint (for a human) and then in vision- blurring dash that was best seen by the leaves and dust caught in his wake. He reached the house and tried the door. Locked! He ran around the back and tried the door. Locked! What was he to do?
He almost heard the soft voice of Death saying something about "window." But he was too busy running around to the front and smashing through the door, leaving a Clark-sized opening. Death said something about "or that'll work too…"
He ran along the hall towards the nursery. The fire blocked his way. He ran through it. The floor right up to the door of the nursery was on fire, with smoke being sucked under the door. The babies had woken up and were crying. He slammed into the door, knocking it off its hinges. Smoke filled the room. Flames were sucked in. The nursery window was open and the fresh air brightened the flames. He grabbed the children, careful to be gentle. He looked. The way back was blocked by flames and he didn't want to risk the children going through it. He crossed to the inside wall, took a running start at the outside wall and spun so his back hit the wall, shielding the children. The wall buckled, letting him outside.
Death stood there, a large basket with a warm blanket and two teddy bears in it at her feet. "Put them in here. They'll be safe here. I promise."
Out in the cool air the children had quieted. He gave them a hug and put them in the basket. He stood there smiling.
Death looked at him and then she moved, fast. Later Clark decided that Death got a lot of practice swinging a scythe because there was no way he could have dodged it. The sharp metal blade went through him at waist height.
He didn't feel a thing.
He didn't feel pain. He didn't feel cold. He felt completely normal, with the sound of his elevated pulse thundering in his ears. And the sound of his pulse?
"Am I dead now?" he asked.
"Part of you is. Your apathy just died. You just gave up the part of you that could stand by and let people be hurt."
She rested her hand on his wrist and the world blurred by again while he stood still. Or were they flying, just without the feeling of acceleration? Was that possible?
The blurring stopped and they were back at the Kent farm, looking at the sunset, where he'd stood when death first appeared.
"Clark," said death, "during your life I'm sure you are going to wish to resurrect many dead people and things. Don't let your apathy be one of them." Then she was gone, except for an outline of golden sparkles that traced her silhouette and then fell towards the ground, going out before they reached it.
Clark shook his head in wonder and slowly walked back to the house.
The next day Clark came down to breakfast with a perplexed look on his face. "I had the strangest dream," he began. "It didn't feel like a dream at the time, but it must have been."
Jonathan Kent looked up from his eggs and raised an eyebrow.
"I dreamed I met death."
Martha stopped turning the sausage and came to the doorway. "Is something bothering you, Clark? Did this death dream frighten you?"
"No, she was very nice about it."
"She?" asked Jonathan.
"In my dream death was a woman. She had the black robe and a big scythe though. And her skin was deathly white."
Jonathan and Martha exchanged glances.
"Anyways, in the dream she took me to this farmhouse that was on fire and said she was there for my innocence to die as I watched two babies die in a fire. At first I was reluctant to use my…powers, but then I decided I had to so I ran down. Then I had to break down the door, I smashed through the nursery door, grabbed the babies and smashed through the side of the house so I wouldn't have to take the babies through the fire."
Jonathan and Martha stared at him.
"Quite a dream, hmmm?"
"Clark," asked Jonathan, "what did you do with the babies?"
"Oh, hmm, death had a basket for them with a blanket and a teddy bear and she promised they'd be alright."
Jonathan and Martha exchanged glances again. Then Jonathan picked up the newspaper next to him and turned to the front page. "Last evening, over in Hamilton County, the home of the Johanson family burned down. Mr. Johanson had taken Mrs. Johanson to the hospital and the friend who was supposed to sit with the babies hadn't arrived yet. When the fire department arrived the house was completely engulfed. But someone had gotten the babies out. It appears that someone drove a motorcycle up the porch, through the door, down the hall, through the nursery door, and then out 'through' the side of the house."
Jonathan glanced at Martha, then back at Clark. "Whoever did it left the babies in a basket, with a blanket, a big teddy bear and a little teddy bear. Still think it was a dream?"
Clark didn't have an answer for that.
Death appeared and stepped forward, an outline of sparks falling towards the floor and going out before hitting it. The room was small and full, but not cluttered, each item in its prescribed place. The bed was made, a teddy bear resting against the pillow. A computer occupied a prominent place on the desk. The shelves were stocked with books and music recordings. A guitar leaned against the bed. Death turned off the blade of the scythe, to save the batteries on its holographic projector, and placed it in a stack of martial arts staffs in a corner where it blended in. The robe came off and was quickly stuffed in a rock collection where its lead lining would be explained away as blocking radioactive samples. She put the little holographic egg timer, which she'd bought in a local store that sold the latest household gimmicks and gadgets, next to the computer. She sat at the makeup table and opened a theatrical makeup kit. A solvent removed the frost from her hair. Cream removed the lead based makeup that gave her skin its deathly white color.
The young woman so revealed paused to pick up a picture. It showed her, a few years younger, with a much more mature Clark. "Hey Dad, so you think -YOU'VE- got a story to tell?" She put down the picture; it had been taken on a day she still remembered fondly, a bright spring day when he'd taught her how to see through things.
She stood up and moved to the middle of the room. "Jammies," she ordered.
The computer flashed. "Jammers active," it said. That meant that from outside the room even a kryptonian couldn't hear what she said, she'd built them herself.
"Run dear-diary," she ordered.
The computer flashed. "Diary entry running for August 4th, 2021."
"Remember the story Dad tells about death coming to kill his apathy? It happened today. At least to a time traveler like myself it did. You know? Dad was a hunk as a kid. Pity none of the guys I know look that good. I'm pretty proud of fooling Dad with my Death costume. But I don't think I'm being vain when I say I'm a good actress." What else was there to say? "End Dear Diary. Jammies off."
She sat on her bed for a minute, turning the time machine, which looked like a twentieth century pocket calculator, over and over in her hand playfully. What had ever possessed her dad to show her the plans to H.G. Well's time machine? How had he not expected her to reproduce it after even that short view? It had taken three years to get it to its current state of refinement.
There was a knock on the door. She slipped the time machine under the bed. "Come in."
Dad walked in, still young and handsome after so many years because of his slow aging Kryptonian genes. "So, how was your trip?"
"Ah, my trip?"
"To the past, to play death and kill my apathy."
She gaped at him.
"You know, I wondered for years if that was a dream or not. Until four years ago, when you turned thirteen, and I recognized the resemblance between you and death. May I ask you something?"
Still stunned, she just nodded.
"Did you start the Johanson's fire or what happened?"
Her eyes narrowed. "You accuse ME of arson? It was an electrical fire. And how did I know to be there? I looked in the old newspapers until I found the story about the fire. The morgues of all the newspapers stories from that part of Kansas are on computer now. I did take a precaution. I'm the one who closed the door to the nursery. And I'm the 'mysterious benefactor' who provided the money to rebuild the Johanson house on the condition it be built with sprinklers."
He reached over and hugged her. "Complicated how all this works, isn't it? I tell you want happened and then later you make it happen?"
"How did you know today was the day I went back?"
"Your jammers are really good. But they only work when they're turned on. I saw you leave."
She smiled at him. It might take Superman to keep her on her toes, but she liked the challenge. "I love you, Dad," she said, hugging him.
"I love you too. And I've got some more stories to tell you."
"Oh yes. I think you have at least a few more trips back through time to make."
Her mouth made a silent "uh-oh," but she smiled.