By Louette McInnes (email@example.com)
Summary: At age 13, Clark is distressed to learn that he is different from other kids. As he grows into his powers, Martha and Jonathan try to help him figure out ways to leash his fantastic abilities.
Boys at the age of 13 can be delightful to work with. Some manage to stay just as lovely at 15 or 18. Others lose the battle with their hormones and go stupid and silly for a few years. It's often the quiet ones, the ones that slip through school without being the loudest or brightest or the biggest ratbags, that often surprise you. The pressures of being a teen are bad enough, but some boys manage to cope with that as well as extra burdens or tragedies in their lives, and it can be heartbreaking to watch, but steel is forged in fire.
Thanks go to Debby Stark and Laurie Farber for starting me on this line and helping to sort out what would be plausible and true to the characters and also make sense to the readers. Thanks also go to Patty Macy, who again managed to find all the errors I missed, and make sure I'm not setting a bad example in my writing, and to John Giffin, who can handle Kiwi accents as well as mathematics. I agree, f'=0! Boys can understand the idea of differentiation in calculus if they think of it as surfing the waves to find the highs and lows, the "turning points" of an equation. For Clark, his real life turning point comes amidst the amber waves of grain in Kansas.
As she put the two apple pies in the oven, Martha Kent heard the back door open and close, and felt the gust of cold autumn air this had let in.
"Clark, did you take that bag of apples over to Mrs. Irig?" she asked her son.
"Yeffmmm," came the muffled reply.
Martha closed the oven door and turned around to look at her son. At thirteen, he was just starting to shoot up in height and lose some of the puppy fat he'd put on just before his growth spurt had started. He was as tall as she was, already, and obviously going to keep growing for awhile.
"I see she still had plenty of caramel for those extra apples," Martha observed as Clark tried to wrap his mouth around an especially large caramel apple that she suspected Edith had set aside for him. "I assume you won't think you're too big to go Trick or Treating next week, or if you do, you'll still make a stop at the Irigs'?"
Clark looked up and stopped long enough to give her a sticky smile and a "Sure!"
"When you finish that apple, there are some peanut butter cookies on a plate on the table." Martha just hoped that would hold him till dinner time. He seemed to eat almost continuously once he got home from school these days. "Then you might see if you can help your father in the garage. He's trying to put that new starter motor in the old truck."
Clark didn't wait. He grabbed the cookies with his free hand and took the apple away from his mouth long enough to use the hand still holding the apple to open the door and let himself out, heading for the garage.
Martha just had to smile. Adopted or not, Clark adored Jonathan Kent, and sometimes she thought Jonathan worried more about the boy than she did. That first day, after they had been driving along in the old pick-up and found him, she wondered if Jonathan could really love an adopted child. But the very first time she let him feed the baby, and Clark had fallen asleep cradled in Jonathan's arm, Jonathan had had such a bemused look, and that look had changed to such a tender look, that she knew things would be just fine.
She walked over and picked up the picture on the mantle, amazed at how fast the years seemed to have gone since that day, and how much that baby had changed. His thick dark hair had given way to a brown that turned almost golden by late summer after he had been playing outside with his friends, or helping Jonathan in the fields. The standard school photo, taken when he was nine, still showed the round, little boy face. Now his face was more angular, the jawline longer. He seemed to be stretching out in all directions at once. His hair was getting darker, too, and Martha wondered if it would return to the dark colour he had when they found him lying in his blue blanket in some kind of a capsule that day in late spring.
"Well, I can't stand here all day," she told herself. "Those two will come in hungry and ready for dinner before you know it," she thought, and reminded herself to put in a few extra potatoes for her growing son. She was glad she had made that extra apple pie as a backstop.
Saturday arrived and was a great day, as far as Clark was concerned, whether it rained or not. He'd had a quick wash, then put on his jeans and flannel shirt and a wool sweater. He'd hurried, and fed the chickens and collected the eggs first. By then, his mom had had a big, hot breakfast ready, with lots of time for seconds *and* thirds on the pancakes since there was no school bus to catch. And better yet, there was no school to worry about, either.
He was just headed out the back door with his father to work on the old truck again when his mother reminded him, "Put your glasses on, honey. In case some of your friends arrive."
Clark dashed back into his room to retrieve the glasses and put them on. The frames were an old pair from his father, and the glass was made from an old lead-light pane his mother had found in a garage sale.
"Thanks for reminding me, Mom," he said as he came back through the kitchen. Martha smiled, and held her arms wide to collect a hug, then held him at arms' length to check him over before he went out, a habit she knew was no longer necessary, but one she found hard to break.
"I don't want you lighting anything by accident or burning your initials into any more fence posts," she admonished him before ruffling his hair and sending him out after his father.
As she washed the breakfast dishes, she worried about her changeling son - he had started to show some abilities that were clearly not normal even for teenagers, and she wondered just how different he would be in a few years. She worried about how he would handle the changes happening to him, and what it would mean to his life. Always at the back of her mind was the worry that someone would one day come to claim him from her, and take him back wherever he had come from. She knew Jonathan was even more worried than she was. "After all, worrying is what parents do," she reminded herself.
Once more, she thought through the events of the last six weeks, trying to see if there was anything more she could do to help Clark. He had been so excited yet so worried when he had rushed in the door at supper time six weeks before and told his parents he had started a fire.
"Where?!" Jonathan had asked quickly. "We'd better put it out! What happened?"
"Don't worry, Dad; it's out already," he had assured his father. "It's really weird, but I got things to light just using my eyes and thinking about getting things hot."
"What? Don't be silly, Clark," Jonathan had said. "How did you discover this?"
"The science teacher at school was showing us how a magnifying glass works today, explaining how it concentrates the light by bending all the rays to meet at a focus. Gary and I got out that old reading glass of Grandad's to play around with. We were going to try and light a little campfire to toast some marshmallows."
"Well, we thought we had it just right when the sun went behind a cloud. I'd been concentrating real hard on keeping the sun focussed on one spot, and I just thought 'why don't you light?' when the cloud came over, and suddenly the leaves burst into flame at exactly the spot I was looking at!"
"That doesn't mean it was you doing it!" Jonathan had started to laugh. "It must have been smouldering and just took off when the sun went in."
"It *was* me, Dad!" Clark had insisted. "Gary didn't believe me, either. And I couldn't concentrate enough with him laughing at me to get it to work again. But after he had to go home, I sat down and tried again. It works! It really works!"
Jonathan had just smiled.
"Dad, I'll show you!" Clark had dashed over to the old fireplace and stared hard at the kindling laid ready to start a fire. In seconds, smoke was curling up and the dry leaves, pine cones and twigs had burst into flame. "See!" he had said, proudly, a huge smile on his face.
Jonathan and Martha had no longer been able to doubt his claim. Martha's mouth had dropped open and she and Jonathan had just stared at Clark, the fire, then each other. Martha had grabbed the back of a chair and sat down before her knees gave out. All the fears they had harbored that first year after they found Clark had come back, and Martha felt like she had been kicked in the stomach. They had been so scared someone would come and claim him and take him away, afraid he was part of some government's experiment, found as he was in a kind of space craft or pod or rocket. Martha had worried then about what had been done to the small baby, but over time her fears and worries had subsided. Now they were all back as terrifying as ever.
Clark had still been excited, looking proudly at the fire, then at his parents.
"This is really great! Nobody else can do this!" Then he had paused, seeing the serious look on his parents' faces, and begun to realize there was more to consider, and, obviously from their looks, things to worry about.
"What's wrong, Mom? Is there something wrong with me being able to do this?"
"Honey, you know you're adopted," Martha had started. "We've always been open with you about that."
"Well, there is something we didn't tell you yet."
"Mom, Dad?" he had sounded suddenly worried.
Martha had continued, "We found you in Schuster's field, like we said, but it wasn't in an old basket. It was in some kind of a ship or pod or capsule. And there was strange writing on it."
"We didn't know if you were from somewhere else, some other planet, or if some government had lost you," the words rushed from her mouth.
"You mean, I'm an alien or some kind of experiment?" He had looked as if he didn't know whether to be pleased at the thought of being special somehow, or horrified at being an experiment. He had turned and looked at the fire, which he had been so pleased with himself for lighting.
"Do you really think I'm different__alien__ from outer space?"
"Son," Jonathan had told him, "we didn't care what you were - you were ours and we loved you. That was all that mattered, and that's still true."
"Clark," his mother had added, taking his hand and despite his size, pulling her son down to sit on her lap as he had when he was little, "we love you, and nothing will ever change that. We just knew you were a baby, and babies need care and love. That's all we knew.
"When old Doc. Foster checked you out, he just said you were healthy. We begged him to let us keep you, and he knew we'd been trying to start a family for a long time. Arranging an adoption, even if we got approved as parents, would have taken months. If we couldn't get approved, the doctor thought it was likely that you'd have been stuck in an orphanage till you grew up."
"Why would I have been stuck, Mom?"
"Clark, things have changed a lot in the last 15 years. With the 60's "Now" and "Me" generation growing up, lots more girls seemed to be getting pregnant and giving up their babies, because it was still considered a disgrace to have a baby if you weren't married. I guess you'd say there was a surplus on the market. And race was still an issue. You had very dark hair and not exactly a fair complexion, and adopting parents could be, well, a bit choosy. Most people wanted a new born baby, a little blond, blue-eyed baby, when they adopted a child."
Looking somewhat stunned and incredulous, Clark had asked, "You mean no one would have wanted me?"
"*We* did, son," Jonathan had said.
"You were just such a cute little thing!" Martha had assured him. "I was afraid someone else would get you, and just in that few days we'd had you, I knew I couldn't let you go off to some stranger!"
"So what happened? How did you manage to keep me?"
"Doc. Foster had been our family doctor for years. He delivered me when I was born, and he knew both your father's family and mine for years. He'd visited the state's orphanages, and he said he wouldn't want to see you sent there. So he wrote up a birth certificate with us as your parents, and he picked a birth date, February 28th, that seemed to suit your age. Then we just told everyone you were adopted from a distant relative who couldn't raise you. Oh, it caused some talk for awhile about the morals in our family, and everyone speculating on who the unwed mother was. But that soon died down.
"You were such a good baby. You didn't get sick, and didn't seem to get the usual bumps and scrapes, but the first we suspected you might be different was when the doctor tried to give you your vaccinations. He couldn't seem to get the needle to go in properly. That's when we finally told him about how we found you. He was so horrified about the possibility that someone had experimented on a baby! He died when you were six, so I don't know if you remember him. He was such a kind old man. He said he'd take care of the records, and for us just to keep quiet about it. Anyway, we were all so afraid if anyone found out about you, they'd take you away and want to…"
"Put you in a laboratory and dissect you like a frog," Jonathan had cut in, very worried.
Clark had looked at his father, the implications of his father's words slowly sinking in.
"We'd never let them do that, son," Jonathan had told Clark.
"I don't *want* to be different, Dad," Clark had said. "I just want to be like everyone else!" The statement had come out almost with an edge of panic in it. He had gotten up and walked back to stare into the flames. His secure existence had been shaken to its foundations. For a teenager, to be different was the worst possible fate. Being part of the gang, blending in with the group, that was important. This sudden change in Clark's life, in what and who he thought he was, had come like a black storm cloud suddenly building on the horizon, a giant cumulonimbus cloud rising into the blue sky of his existence and threatening it, casting its shadow over his future. Life, *his* life, could never be the same again.
Jonathan's next comment had told Martha that he could almost see what was going through his son's head just from the look on Clark's face. "No one wants to be too different, son, especially at your age, but I don't think you have to worry too much just yet. This eye thing doesn't show. As long as you don't use it at the wrong time, or go showing off for your friends, they won't even notice. You said Gary didn't believe you'd done anything."
"And Clark," this time it had been Martha's turn to cut in, "this could be a useful thing, if you use it correctly and don't tell too many people." Her worries had shown in her face, though, as she sat looking at Clark standing in front of the now blazing fire. She had added this to try and cheer Clark up as soon as she had seen the crestfallen, shocked look on his face when he had realized he was suddenly separated, different from all of his friends, all the people he knew, by an unbridgeable gulf. The vague but bright future most children imagined had suddenly turned into a frightening and lonely place.
"At least you and Dad won't have to worry about getting a fire started the next time you go fishing and want to cook your dinner!" She had laughed, and drawn both of them into her laughter as they remembered a previous fishing trip and the hamburgers they'd bought for dinner on the way home because Jonathan had forgotten to take any matches.
Then both parents had gone to hug him and let him know he wasn't really alone.
He had been quiet the next few days, looking thoughtful. Then he had come home from school really upset. Martha had known something was wrong by the look on his face as he came up the road to the house. Then, he had gone up into his old tree house, the one he and Jonathan had built when Clark was 7. It was too small for him and all his friends to fit in now when they got together, but Jonathan hadn't had the heart to pull it down, and Clark still went up there sometimes when he was upset or had some thinking to do. She knew it had to be serious thinking if the smell of baking scones hadn't gotten his attention.
Clark had accidentally set his notebook on fire at school during a science experiment. Luckily, the teacher had assumed Clark had been playing with the matches used to light the Bunsen burner. Clark had had to clean the sinks and wash the lab benches down during his lunch period, but had been more than happy to get off so lightly. He had also discovered, while trying to find out why one of the lab sinks was blocked, that he could see into and through things.
When he had finally come down an hour later, Martha had filled him with scones and gotten the story out of him, then the three of them had sat down to sort out the problem. They had come up with the idea of using some of Jonathan's old glass frames, but using some plain, leaded glass. It wouldn't stop whatever Clark was doing, but the glass would act as a reminder to him to be careful. It could take a bit more heat than normal window glass, too, if he made a mistake. Not being used to glasses, it made him very aware of his vision, like the trainer wheels on his old bike had made him aware of his sense of balance until he learned to control it better. If he started to use these odd powers by accident, some of the rays were reflected back and he became aware of the fact that he had "turned them on".
Then there had been a few problems with him getting teased at school for wearing the glasses. Clark had always been fairly popular. Unassuming and ready to smile, or to listen to the other children, he had never been a leader, but was always included in whatever was happening. But the glasses proved too much of a temptation for Jack Taylor.
Jack was older than Clark, if you went by Smallville reckoning, and had already reached the stage where he was interested in girls, especially Rachel, who was cute and small and had long blond curly hair. This meant he was also interested in establishing himself high up on the pecking order of boys. And instead of promoting a mature outlook, his increased hormone production seemed to have started to dissolve his brains. Anything silly and attention getting, or that Jack could use to boost his own ego at the expense of someone else, was on the cards as far as Jack was concerned. He had walked up to Clark's friend, Sam, and slapped his shoulder as he said hello - but the slap left a note that said "kick me" on Sam's sweater. He had shot spit balls at the board while Mrs. Jeffries was teaching algebra, and then dropped the hollow felt pen tube he had used to fire them into the pocket of Darren's jacket where it hung on the back of Darren's chair. Jack had been quick to point to Darren's jacket when Mrs. Jeffries had come storming down the aisle in the direction the missiles had come from. He had swiped Frank's favorite pen while Frank was up at the board doing a problem, and passed it to Gary to hide behind a heater. As the students had collected their things from the lockers at the end of the day, he had slipped a small water bomb into Andrew's bag, so that as Andrew dropped in the last book, the balloon had burst and soaked all of his things.
Jack's antics got lots of laughs from some people in the class, and he thought he was very clever. Rachel hadn't laughed, and he very much wanted her to notice him. But Rachel always sat near Clark on the bus going home. And Clark, still sought out by several of the girls for his friendly manner, made a perfect target for Jack to show off against and try to embarrass at the same time. Clark had just started wearing glasses, and thus became Jack's favorite target.
Jack Taylor had kept snatching Clark's glasses off him and hiding them, then loudly offering to guide Clark around since Clark must be blind as a bat. And Gary, who was supposed to be Clark's friend, had kept calling him "four eyes", especially in front of Jack and the girls in his class.
Clark had finally gotten fed up and come home one day saying he wouldn't wear the glasses.
"Why not, Sweetheart?" Martha had asked. Then the whole story had come out.
"Why is Jack doing this, Mom? I've told him to stop it, and sometimes I feel like punching him, but then I'll get in trouble. And I thought Gary was my friend."
"Clark, honey, I think you'll find that Jack is showing off for the girls."
"So why is Gary calling me names?"
"Maybe he's trying to show off to get in with Jack. Boys will do that, and they also sometimes have a very strange idea of what girls really like."
"So_what do I do? They won't leave me alone when I ask them to. Aside from hitting him, I don't know how to make them stop."
Martha had brought a plate of cookies and a pitcher of buttermilk over to the table and sat down with her son. She waited until at least three cookies had been demolished before she had started to answer.
"The more fuss you make, and the more upset you get, the more those two will enjoy annoying you."
"So I should hit them? Dad always said not to fight."
"Not if you can help it. You *might* have to resort to that, but maybe some other things will work, first. Don't react, just ignore what they say. Treat them as if they're silly little children, because that's what they're acting like. They won't like being treated that way, and if you act more grown up than they do, the others will be less likely to laugh at you. And if you can steal their thunder and turn things around on them, they won't enjoy their little game any more, either. Then they'll stop."
Over the next few days, Clark had tried his mother's advice of ignoring his two tormentors. Things didn't improve as much as he had hoped, although Jack wasn't getting as much laughter when he teased Clark. So Clark had started looking for ways to turn their comments back on them. And in the process, he also found out who his real friends were.
A large group had lined up and were getting on the school bus to go home, when Gary had tapped him on his right shoulder. This time Gary had grabbed his glasses and quickly slipped them to Jack. Clark had had to work to control his desire to punch one or the other. But he had managed to turn coolly to Jack and ask, in a concerned manner, "Gee, Jack, if you need glasses that badly, keep that pair. I can get another." This provoked gales of laughter from the others waiting to board the bus. Jack had fairly thrown the glasses at Clark, who had calmly picked them up and turned to board the bus.
Jack's face had gone red at this offhand treatment from the subject of his fun and games, and he had just raised a foot to kick Clark, when a sharp tug on his backpack from behind had sent him off balance and sprawling to the ground, causing even more laughter from the other students.
"Looks like yer balance isn't any better than yer eyes," little, blond Rachel, had commented as she had smiled and stepped past him to board the bus behind Clark. Having one of Rachel's large, older cousins haul him to his feet and dust him off as if he were a three year old had embarrassed Jack even more. After that, Jack found the girls laughing at him rather than Clark, and his little game had rapidly become very boring.
So Clark's problems with his newfound abilities had been solved with the glasses to help him, and his problems with the glasses had been solved, too.
Reflecting back on all the difficulties of the last six weeks as she did the breakfast dishes, Martha hoped the worst was over.
"Did you help your mother with the breakfast dishes?" Jonathan asked when Clark came into the shed behind the house on that Saturday morning that had started like so many others.
"She said you needed me out here," he answered.
"Oh, I think that might be a hint. She asked me yesterday if we could move the big freezer over along that wall so she'll have room for a bigger work table. Do you think we can manage it? If not, Wayne Irig might be able to come over later and help. I'm sure Edith would like a visit and a chat."
Jonathan sized up the job, and decided he and Clark, working at one end at a time, could slowly shift the large freezer and "walk" it over to its new position. It was full of corn from the summer, and half a cow that the Kents and the Irigs had killed and butchered three weeks before. Jonathan intended to be careful of his back, and would have preferred to use the lift on the tractor, but it wouldn't fit in the shed.
Once they were in place, Jonathan gave Clark a count.
"Three, two, one -"and they both pushed the freezer.
It swung around through a six foot arc so rapidly that Jonathan nearly ran over his own foot. He looked in amazement at his son.
"How many bowls of Wheaties have you been having for breakfast in the morning?" he asked when he noticed Clark didn't look quite so surprised.
"Just two, Dad," came the answer. Then Clark added, "The hay bales we shifted last week didn't seem so heavy. I thought it was just my imagination. But I've been trying to lift some things this week, and I tried some of the weights at school when no one was looking. Dad, I lifted 200 lbs. over my head!"
"Are you sure no one saw you, Clark?" Jonathan's voice had an undercurrent of worry. "Why didn't you tell me about this before?"
"I didn't want you worrying, Dad. Besides, it didn't seem *that* different from normal."
"You've got to be careful, son! I know boys like to test their strength, but you can't risk someone thinking you're not normal, and you could drop something on your foot, or hurt yourself if you don't lift things properly."
"I'll be careful, Dad. I will."
"Do you think you could *lift* one end of this freezer? We need to find out just how strong you are, how serious the problem is."
Clark looked a bit doubtful about lifting the freezer filled with food, but he carefully bent his knees and got his hands under the bottom edge of the freezer. Then he lifted as hard as he could. Jonathan could see some strain in Clark's face, but as Clark straightened his legs, the end of the freezer raised upward until Clark was standing completely upright. He looked in amazement at his father, then carefully put the end of the freezer back on the floor. Even Clark could realize this was definitely not normal.
"I think we'd better go talk to your mother," Jonathan sounded very serious as he headed for the kitchen. Going in, he suggested, "Martha, I think you'd better sit down. We need to talk. We just tried to shift that freezer, and Clark could just about do it by himself."
"Oh, my!" his wife said as she quickly followed his suggestion to sit down.
The three Kents all sat at the table to consider this new problem. His father started.
"Clark, is there anything else you've noticed different the last few months?"
"Well," he paused to think. "Even when the other kids whisper in class, I seem to be able to hear it, if I concentrate on it."
"Sight, strength, and now hearing," remarked Jonathan, shaking his head and considering the new information. Martha looked first at her husband, who looked at her and raised his hands as if to say "What next?" Then she looked at Clark. He still didn't look the least bit different from so many other teenagers. His hair was, she noticed, still getting darker, and starting to show a bit more of a wave than it had before. He had a slightly exotic, sort of Asian look in his complexion and his eyes somehow, and this was brought out more by the loss of that round boyish look to his face, but he still had five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot, two ears, one nose, and a beautiful smile. In other words, to Martha, there seemed to be no visible difference from the other children in the area that couldn't be written off as motherly preference on her part. She made a suggestion. "I think maybe we should spend the weekend finding out just what you can do. Then we'll have a better idea what to do about it." She looked at her husband and son. Jonathan still looked concerned, worried, but she reached out to take him and Clark by the hand and manage to smile for them.
"I can't stop what's happening to me, can I?" Clark asked, sounding both scared and unhappy. "I don't want to be different. I just want to be like you and Mom," he said, looking at his father.
"I guess that's the choice you may have to make, son." Jonathan looked directly at Clark, talking to him not as a child but as an adult. "You can use these new abilities, maybe become famous and make a lot of money. You'll still have to worry about what people will think, and who sent or lost you. The other alternative is to try to act as normal as you can and not use those abilities. It's a big decision to have to make, and this is one decision your mother and I can't make *for* you, son. You're the one who has to live with it. We can help you, but in the end, you have to decide for yourself."
Clark had listened very carefully to his father, and Jonathan could see him swallow, as if trying to take in this huge lump.
"You don't have to decide right now," Martha reminded Clark. "First thing is to find out how different you are from normal, and how hard it would be to act normal. You can't make a decision until you know that. So let's just take things one step at a time, okay?"
"Okay, Mom." Clark still looked worried and not very happy, but he had seen his parents tackle problems around the farm, before. He'd heard them weigh up alternatives and make decisions, so this routine approach reassured him that this was just another problem to tackle, and - he trusted his mother and father.
The rest of the weekend was spent in learning what he could and couldn't do with his new abilities. He could almost lift the freezer, but not the car. He could see as far as his dad could - when Jonathan used binoculars. He could read a book without opening the cover, but he couldn't see what was in the trunk of the car - yet.
As she served up the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for dinner on Sunday, Martha listened to Clark's list of cans and can'ts. He was obviously excited by some of his abilities, but also still scared at what it could mean to his life.
"It was great, Mom! When Dad and I were out looking at the stars last night, I could even see two of the moons of Jupiter!"
She was glad he sounded so excited because he had always loved finding things out and they had tried to encourage him to be curious about the world around him.
"Well, that sounds good, honey, and it wouldn't be difficult to hide that kind of thing. You'd just have to remember not to talk about things other people can't see."
"I have to concentrate to see that far, Mom, so as long as I just look first, to see what other people can see, I'll know what not to mention."
Martha and Jonathan both nodded and smiled.
"That's using your head, son!" Jonathan remarked, and gave Clark a pat on the shoulder. Clark's smile widened at this praise. He was feeling better about being able to appear normal, but his mother reminded him, "Honey, just remember, you've changed a lot in the last few months. But you might find you've still got a lot of changing to do. Don't make a hasty decision on this yet."
"I won't, Mom," he assured her.
The next month went quietly, and Clark's growth in height and his other changes seemed to stall, or at least slow down. Clark thought this meant his changing was finished, but Martha knew better. At her Wednesday night craft group, as the women were working on their projects to make decorations or presents for Christmas, they also "worked over" the people and events in the community. Rachel's mother sparked a discussion on teenagers one night by complaining about how much her two nephews ate whenever they came to visit. Bev Gardner, whose son, Darren, was in Clark's class at school, had commented on how his appetite varied, depending on how fast he was growing in any given week.
"He just seems to stockpile all the energy," she had said, "and doesn't seem to grow, then he suddenly shoots up half an inch - seems almost overnight! Then he'll come home the next few days and actually stop eating for at *least* half an hour between his after school "snack" and his supper." Several other mothers had agreed with this description of the stop-start eating and growth of teenagers.
Clarice had then turned to Martha to ask, "Is Clark eating up a storm, too?" Martha might have been alarmed at this question from one of the other women, but she knew this was just Clarice's way of getting her into the discussion. Clarice thought everyone should add something to the topic, and Martha had been more intent on listening than talking.
"Good heavens, yes," she replied. "I went through 50 lbs. of flour last month, what with all the scones and pancakes and muffins he and his friends can go through in half an hour! I think they must inhale the food. Why last weekend, I baked a pan of blueberry muffins and Clark took it up to his room for him, Dave Sanders, Sam and Darren, and he was back with the empty plate in less that 5 minutes, I'm sure."
"That sure sounds like my Darren," Bev had said, smiling. "Frank and I are planning an overseas trip with the money we expect to save on food once Darren leaves home!"
Everyone had laughed and the topic had changed.
Clark discovered a new friend at school, a new boy named Hamish, who was getting teased by a certain element at school for his "stupidity" and for his name. The boys had shortened his name to Ham and he kept hearing "oink, oink" as he walked down the halls. Never having lived outside a city before, he also made the grave mistake of referring to a heifer as a steer. He compounded the error when he tried to join a conversation on the merits of Charolais by saying he "liked those small Swiss houses", generating gales of laughter from the group of boys he had tried to join in the cafeteria for lunch.
"Hey, stupid! Nobody asked you to join our conversation!" Craig Brown, a very large and obnoxious ninth grader, sneered at Hamish. A chorus of "Yeah, Stupid!" came from the others at the table.
The next day, Clark found Hamish sitting at a table by himself at lunchtime. Clark knew that whatever was developing inside of him would make him seem far more different and threatening, much more of a target and an outsider than Hamish would ever be. Yet Clark, who had grown up in the area and at least outwardly seemed like the other children, was accepted while Hamish was left sitting alone and ignored. Deep inside, Clark felt just as alone and forlorn at times lately as Hamish looked. That decided his actions, and he sat down beside Hamish.
"You're from Chicago, aren't you?" Clark asked.
Hamish looked at him cautiously, half expecting Clark to make a crack about "ignorant city folks", but seeing a friendly smile and an attentive look on Clark's face, he ventured an answer. "Yeah, Evanston. That's a suburb on the north side of Chicago."
"I've never been to a city that big. Didn't you ever worry about getting lost in such a big place?" Clark asked. "My parents took me to Kansas City once, and that seemed big and confusing enough to me."
"It's not all that bad," Hamish answered, beginning to sound a bit more cheerful. "Evanston isn't all that big, and if you want to go downtown you can't get too far lost if you stay where you can see the "El"- that's the elevated train. And you can't get lost as long as you can tell which way is east - you just come out at the lake and follow the shoreline till something looks familiar."
"That doesn't sound too hard," Clark said, smiling.
Hamish returned the smile, feeling better about himself and glad of a chance to show that he knew something someone considered useful, even if he couldn't tell a heifer from a steer.
"You'd get a chance to go to lots of things Smallville doesn't have," Clark continued. "My dad said he got to some museum in Chicago once, and saw dinosaur footprints and the skeleton of a big theropod dinosaur."
"That would be the Field Museum. I've been there!" Hamish said with enthusiasm. "It's an Albertosaurus, a cousin to a Tyrannosaur. It's huge!"
By this stage in the conversation, Sam and Rachel had also sat down at the table.
Sam was more interested in football than science. "Did you ever get to a Bears game? Gee, I'd love to go to a game like that!"
"Only three times," Hamish answered.
"*Only* three times! Wow! That's still three more times than I've been to a game!" Sam sounded very impressed, and Hamish was beginning to feel much, much better than he had the day before.
"Did you ever see Gale Sayers? He was born in Wichita, ya know,." Sam told Hamish.
"No, but my dad went to the University of Illinois with Dick Butkus." He turned to Clark. "Soldier Field where they play is just next to the museum, Clark." Then Hamish turned back to Sam. "Wrigley Field isn't too far from Evanston, so we used to go there to watch the Cubs several times every summer."
"Do you play football?" Clark asked.
Rachel finally got a word in. "Don't suppose you also happen to know how to dance? All these guys have two left feet."
"My old school used to have dances once a month, but the local CYO had them every Friday night, and everyone went."
"Great!" said Rachel, "You can help me educate some of these here farmers."
Rachel managed to extract a promise of help from Hamish just before the boys headed off outside to throw a football around for what remained of the lunch period.
Thanksgiving had come and gone, and Clark had graduated from lifting the freezer to lifting the old truck. The weather had turned very cold and windy, but it was the football season, and the boys of Smallville were as sensible as boys in most other places. In other words, when lunchtime came, they somehow managed to scoff down their lunches in ten minutes flat and still have time to play outside. The older, bigger boys at the combined junior and senior high school in Smallville always appropriated the best playing areas, but Clark and his friends still managed to find a reasonable space at the far end of the grounds.
With only three boys on a side, Clark was playing general defense behind Hamish and Darren in a game of touch. Opposing them was Dave at the center, then Sam as quarterback, and Bowe on the right side. Clark watched Sam carefully, trying to size up whether he would run with the ball this time or pass it to Bowe again. Bowe wasn't any taller than Clark, but he was very solidly built and fast and he had already gotten around or through Darren twice to score a touchdown.
Dave snapped the ball to Sam behind him, and Sam took off to his left, toward Bowe, who had in turn started to run wide around Darren and down the field. Clark, half expecting Sam to take the ball this time himself, yelled to Darren, "Switch!" hoping Darren could stop red-haired Sam, who was lightly built, but fast and agile. Clark turned and ran toward Bowe, in case Sam was faking and intended to throw a pass to Bowe once Darren was committed to Sam as his target, which is exactly what Sam intended to do.
Bowe turned to watch Sam, and just managed to catch the pass that came toward him, then he turned and ran for the goal line, marked by a boy's jacket at either end. Clark ran as fast as he could, trying to cut off Bowe's run. He was concentrating so hard on keeping his speed to the set pace he had selected as "normal" that as he stretched to reach and tag Bowe's right shoulder, he grabbed a bit harder than he intended. Bowe stumbled and fell, but Clark had already felt the sharp snap as Bowe's collarbone cracked under his hand.
"Oww!" Bowe yelled, as he hit the frozen ground. "My shoulder!"
Clark, horrified at what he had done accidentally, immediately stopped and knelt by Bowe, who had dropped the ball to put his left hand up to his right shoulder. Clark tried to help him up from the cold ground as the others ran up to see what was wrong with Bowe.
"What is it?" asked Sam. "What's wrong?"
Bowe was nearly in tears from the pain but managed to grit his teeth and explain, "I tripped when Clark tagged me, and I must have done something to my shoulder as I fell."
"Boy, the nurse is going to blow her stack at us," commented Dave in disgust.
"Why?" asked Hamish, who had only started at the school two weeks before. His parents had finally decided a big city was no place to raise a child after one of Hamish's friends had been knifed in the playground of his Chicago school, and so they had leased a small farm just outside of Smallville.
"'Cause she's sick of treating sprains and injuries from sport," explained Dave. "You weren't here when she read us the riot act a few weeks ago about being careful, warming up, not being too rough."
"Whatever she's going to do, I think we'd better get Bowe over to her and get this looked at," Clark told the others. "I'll take him, since I'm the one who tagged him and injured him. I'm really sorry, Bowe, I never meant to hurt you!" Clark was feeling miserable, seeing Bowe's pain.
"Had to be the fall, Clark. *You* aren't strong enough to hurt me!" Bowe said, trying to appear tough in spite of the pain as he started the long trudge across the field to get to the nurse's office. Clark grabbed Bowe's jacket from the field, where it had marked one end of the goal area, and started off after him.
At home that night over supper, he told his parents what had happened, how he had broken Bowe's collarbone.
"Clark, honey, how can you be sure it was you and not the fall?" asked Martha as she passed the bowl of mashed potatoes to her husband.
"I felt the bone snap, Mom. Bowe just thought it had to be the fall that did it because he's so much bigger than me. He couldn't believe I was strong enough to break his collarbone. But *I* know what I did. I wish I didn't have these powers, this extra strength!"
"Son, if wishing were fishes, we'd have a pondful of trout outside the door."
"But I don't *want* to hurt people, Dad. Bowe is my friend!"
"I know, I know. But you have these abilities, and I'm afraid you'll have to learn to live with them, somehow. You'll find a way, boy. Train yourself to be careful, and practice acting normal. This accident could have happened even without your extra strength. I've seen it before."
"Really?" Clark wanted to believe his father.
"Yep, friend of mine in high school, just like this, had his collarbone broken pretty much the same way. You just do your best to act normal, be normal strength with your friends, Clark. Doing your best is all you *can* do."
"The glasses do help. When I put them on, it's kinda like putting on a different set of clothes. You know, work clothes for the farm compared to dressing up to go to town or the county fair. There are certain things you can do, a certain way you have to act, in each set of clothes. But I had to take the glasses off for the game of touch."
"Well, you see, you *are* training yourself. It just takes practice and time."
"But I don't want to keep hurting people while I learn."
Clark was still upset about hurting his friend. Martha could tell because his attempts to smile at his father's jokes later never touched his eyes, and he didn't have any of the pumpkin pie she had made for dessert that day.
She knew he would be doubly determined and careful, and after that incident, she rarely saw him without his glasses, even at home. He told his mother that he was watching his friends and also watching the sports on TV to see what was considered normal. This would give him a basis for setting the limits on what he could do when he was wearing his glasses. Over the next month, he worked on learning to control himself, to eliminate any difference between himself and his friends.
His efforts, as she feared, were pre-ordained to fail. Clark had been raised on the premise that if you could help your friends and neighbors, you did.
Edith Irig's car slid on some ice and drifted off the road into a small drainage ditch at the side, and she walked back to get her husband to pull it out with the tractor. When they got back, it was sitting on the road again.
Rachel's show pony somehow jumped the fence and disappeared. It was found standing safely tethered on solid ground just beyond the low, swampy area on the Gardner's farm. It was coated in mud up to its belly where it had obviously been stuck in the swampy area, but somehow it had gotten out and was happily munching on a pile of oats left by some unknown person.
After each incident, Clark looked pleased, but Martha noticed him working harder than ever at appearing "normal".
Mid-January brought cold winds blowing in from the north, so cold they seemed to be blowing straight down from the Arctic ice and across the prairies. With them came snow in small, harsh, icy crystals, more pellet than flake, driven by the winds into drifts that caught against houses, barns, fences. It swirled across the roads, seeming almost to dance with the gusts of wind, making driving impossible. The storm lasted long enough to lay a few inches of snow across the fields, turning everything clean, and white.
The next morning brought clear skies and a bright sun that started the surface snow melting. The air was still crisp when Clark went to check his tree hut and make sure too much snow hadn't drifted inside. It was still his special place for thinking, even more so than before. He could get away from everything. Even his room, at times, wasn't a good place to think. All the bits and pieces of his life just seemed to remind him even more that he wasn't what he had always thought of himself as - a normal human boy. "Lucky Pinnochio," he thought as he looked out at the inverted blue bowl of the sky. "At least you got your wish to be human, in the end. That can't happen for me, no matter how much I wish."
He looked out again at the intense blue above, then down to the white that seemed to be covered in millions of glittering diamonds where the melting snow caught and reflected the warming rays of the sun. Then Clark noticed his father getting the tractor ready to use it to clear the lane from the house to the roadway. He could hear his mother inside, mixer going to make something good to eat after the work was done. He smiled as he realized there was obviously enough normal human boy in him to react to the sound of the mixer. He'd have to be fast getting the porch cleaned of snow, he knew, if he wanted a chance to lick the bowl when she was done. That thought reminded him of a little saying he'd seen somewhere on a calendar printed with a thought for each week - "Life is like an ice-cream cone. You have to learn to lick it." Clark scrambled down the frozen rope and wood ladder with a renewed determination to make his life work out, somehow, and to fit in.
That night, with the clear sky and no clouds to hold the heat in, the temperature dropped again and the melting snow re-froze, leaving an icy rime on the snow, and a film of "black" ice on parts of the road.
Monday morning dawned clear again, and the school bus was only running a few minutes late when Clark boarded it and sat down beside Sam to plan a major snow ball battle at lunchtime. A few stops later, Rachel got on and sat down behind them. She also got in an early round to the battle by dropping a handful of snow down the neck of Clark's jacket.
"You'll regret that, Rach! You'd better hope you can hide in the library at lunch, 'cause you just made yourself my number one target," Clark warned her, trying to look menacing, but Rachel just grinned at him.
"You just try it, Clark Kent! But you better watch yourself. I'll be armed, and I *won't* miss my target," she promised him.
"Hang on tight!" Mr. Harcourt, the bus driver, suddenly called as he braked and swerved to try and avoid a wandering cow that had gotten onto the road somehow. Aside from being a valuable animal, the cow was big enough to cause serious damage to the bus. He avoided the cow, but a patch of black ice on the road sent the bus into a skid as he pulled back onto the right side of the road and tried to straighten out again. That took the bus sliding into the roadside drainage ditch, toppling the bus on its side. The sound of glass shattering mixed with the children's screams. Clark saw everything as if in slow motion. He knew the bus was going over, could see the pole coming at them, but didn't know how to stop the chain of events as books, bags, children and seats were dislodged and tossed around. Clark was thrown first to the left as the bus swerved, then thrown out of his seat to the right as the bus toppled onto its side. Sam landed on top of him and hit his head on the seat back. The bus skidded along in the ditch, still on its side, and slammed into a telephone pole, throwing both boys forward into the seats in front of them as the bus' forward slide was stopped by its impact with the pole. The impact caved in the front of the bus and peeled the roof partly off at the front. Splintered glass sprayed over the interior as seats and children were jolted and rearranged by the impacts.
The crumpling roof of the bus caught Mr. Harcourt's head in its metal accordion. Several of the children sitting by the right side windows had been partly crushed by others falling on them, and Clark could see at least two who had been thrown partly out of the windows and were now trapped under the bus as it lay on its side in the ditch.
Everything seemed strangely silent after the shattering of glass and shrieking of metal. Then someone started crying, and several others began calling out in pain.
Clark reached up to the window that used to be on his left but was now above him. He smashed out the remaining glass and managed to pull himself out, then he raced around to the emergency door at the back and pulled it open. He managed to dislodge the back seat and pull out the first two people he came across tangled in the seats. Both were seniors who usually appropriated the back seats for themselves, privileges of their rank. Neither seemed seriously injured, although both were dazed and didn't seem fully aware of what had happened. Clark realized the bus would have to be lifted somehow to release the children trapped beneath, and quickly, if there was going to be any chance for them to survive.
He shook the two senior boys, urging them, pleading with them, "You've got to help me! Some people are trapped and we've got to try to lift the bus, or wedge it up somehow!"
Scott Johnson, the bigger of the two, and one of the linebackers of the school football team, tried to get to his feet. Craig Wilson just managed to sit up. Clark raced to the front of the bus and heaved, pulling the broken base of the telephone pole out of the ground to use as a prop for the top section that he planned to use as a lever and wedge for propping up the bus - if they could raise it. He had never lifted anything quite as heavy as the bus. As soon as the pole was positioned at the middle of the bus, he went to get Scott and Craig from where they were sitting in the snow behind the bus.
"Do you think you can try to lever the bus up?" He asked them. "I'll stay beside the bus and try to lift, and I can try to make sure the pole won't slip. Maybe I can slide whoever is trapped out from beneath."
"I don't think we have much chance," Scott gasped, still getting his breath after having the wind knocked out of him.
"But we can do our best," Clark said. "The snow might have cushioned them some and make it possible to slide them out." He helped the two seniors over to the end of the pole and almost draped them across the end, then he got down and squeezed under the edge of the bus. "On a count of three, we all go…"
Scott counted, then he and Craig leaned on the end of the pole while Clark, under the side of the bus, strained to lift. To Scott's amazement, the bus lifted enough to slide the pole forward and under and create a twelve inch gap. Clark, with one hand on the bus to steady it, slipped underneath while Scott tried to shove his larger bulk under to grab the other student and slide her out to safety. Clark carefully pushed up enough with his back to allow Scott to get in. He managed to grab one of the people while Clark got the other, then Clark carefully let the bus down until it rested on the pole again. Crawling out, he made sure the boy was breathing, then started to the front to see if Mr. Harcourt could be helped. Other children were starting to climb out the back door, and the windows. Clark climbed back in briefly to help the rest get out. He had to pry a seat off of one boy's leg to get the boy out, but no one noticed. Scott and Craig, still really in shock and not up to the effort they had made, collapsed in the snow again.
As soon as he got to the front of the bus, Clark reached for the peeled and corrugated roof without stopping to look. He just started pulling when the driver's head, freed from the pressure, fell forward. Completely unprepared by anything in his experience, Clark was promptly sick in the snow.
The next thing he knew was Mr. Gardner, who had been heading into town in his car and come across the accident, asking him if he was all right. Shortly afterward, emergency services, parents, and neighbors started arriving to help the injured children, alerted by Mr. Gardner's CB radio and then the phone lines of the area burning up with calls as the news spread through the community.
Clark, quickly declared uninjured at the scene as the emergency services struggled to cope with the scale of the accident, was sent home with his parents.
He lay, wrapped in a blanket, on the couch with Martha trying to get more hot chocolate into him. He shook his head and just took his mother's hand and held it against his cheek.
"I didn't know what to do, Mom! I should have been able to stop the accident."
"I don't see how, honey, even with your extra strength. At least you got the two children out who were trapped under the bus, and made sure the rest were out in case the bus caught fire. I just hope no one realizes it was you who did all that."
"Scott and Craig helped, Mom."
"Maybe, but they were both in shock when we got there and not fit to do anything."
"Neither was I," Clark reminded her, and closed his eyes, trying to imagine anything but his last view of the front of the bus and its driver. "Do you think I did the right thing in trying to hide my abilities?" he asked his parents. "Maybe if I had explored them more, found out more of what I could do, practiced more, I might have found some way to stop the crash."
"I don't think so, son," his father reached out to pat him on the shoulder. "More'n likely you'd have been in the middle of some test program in Washington instead of on that bus. How would that have helped them?" Jonathan, sitting in the chair nearby, looked very worried. Lifting a car in an accident was something he had heard of happening, but not a bus loaded with children. He just hoped everyone would assume it was Scott and Craig who had levered the bus up off the children.
The next edition of the Smallville Post headlined the story of the accident. The front page was dominated by a picture of the wrecked bus and beside it, Scott and Craig. Scott was sitting on the ground, and Craig was still draped over the end of the pole. UPI picked up the story of the "amazing feat of strength" and relayed it to papers around the globe.
Clark had to admit to himself he was a little jealous of the attention the two boys got at school the next day. Neither Scott nor Craig had any clear memory of exactly how they had gotten out of the bus and gotten the pole fixed up to raise the bus. Scott vaguely remembered Clark hauling a boy from beneath the bus, but everyone assumed he and Craig had been the ones to lift the bus. Clark bit his tongue and kept his mouth shut. It got a bit harder to do that when several magazines called the families of the two seniors, asking to buy their story.
The next thing that got Clark's attention was a fight in the playground between Scott and Craig. The rumor mill swung into action, and Martha informed her husband and son that night that Craig had been jealous of the money Scott was offered by one of the magazines, and the two boys had argued over who had done what in the rescue.
Within a day, reporters and photographers had arrived in town to cover the story of the two boys who had managed to lift a bus. They trampled over Mrs. Johnson's garden, damaging her prize rose bushes, disrupted the school to take photos, and followed the boys around the school to their classes. They interviewed as many of the children who had been on the bus as they could find, even though none of the children had really seen how the bus got moved. At least one reporter showed up at the Kent farm to see Clark, but Martha managed to send him away, saying Clark had been sick after the accident and didn't want to talk about it.
Despite the cold weather, Martha had found Clark spending some time every afternoon in his tree house. He felt betwixt and between. All the attention to the other two boys bothered him, yet he didn't really want the attention. He wanted to help people, but he didn't want to be taken away from his parents. Like a tangled ball of string, the problem kept rolling around in his head, never quite unravelling, but he could never get all the loose ends together and tidied up to his satisfaction.
Clark was biking home from Darren's place on Saturday afternoon a week after the accident. Darren had broken some ribs and his ankle and was still not allowed to do very much. He couldn't go to school until the ribs healed enough for him to use crutches to get around on. Clark was trying to keep Darren up with the class and keep him from getting too bored at home.
The day had been quite warm for late January but the days were still short, so he had left Darren's in plenty of time to get home and help out with some chores before supper.
As he came down the last half mile of road before reaching the lane that led to the Kent farmhouse, he noticed a man lying beside the road. The man was wearing a big red plaid wool shirt, short, baggy khaki shorts, and leather boots. He was obviously sunbrowned even in winter. A big pack lay beside him. Clark thought he must be sleeping, but no one in their right mind slept outside or went around in shorts in the winter. He wondered if the man was lost or in trouble.
Stopping and getting off of his bike, he went over and looked at the man to see if he was hurt or just asleep. The traveller looked old enough to be Clark's father, and he seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
Clark was startled as the man opened his eyes and smiled as he greeted Clark.
"Hi," Clark answered warily. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, young fella," the man translated for Clark. He got up and held out his right hand. "I'm Trevor McFarlane. Just Trev'll do."
Clark had realized the man wasn't a "local", but the accent wasn't one Clark recognized. The "a"s all sounded like "ah", and the "r"s at the ends of the words got lost, more like a southern accent. But it was too clipped, more English than southern.
"Hi, my name's Clark," Clark answered, shaking the hand held out to him. "Are you lost, sir? It - just seemed an odd place to take a nap."
"She'll be right! It was bloody cold last night, though."
Clark wasn't sure who the "she" was. He couldn't see anyone else when he looked around.
"Trev" just laughed and said, "No worries, mate. Can you point me the way to Smallville?"He was hefting his large backpack onto his shoulder and getting it settled.
"It's a long way to walk tonight, sir. My parents live just down the road. Maybe my dad could give you a ride."
"That's what I like about this paht of the country, reminds me o' home. Fahm people ah beaut when it comes to helping ya."
"Where's home?" Clark asked, feeling fairly sure he had understood Trev this time.
"Do you mean Newfoundland?"
"Not a show! Noo Ziland. Land of the Kiwi."
Clark couldn't see what shoe polish had to do with things at all. He began to wonder if this stranger was quite sane.
Trev suddenly grinned at the perplexed look on Clark's face. "Try New Zealand," he said, in the Mid-West accent that Clark didn't really think of as an accent. "A kiwi is a little flightless buhd that lives there. It's also what the locals call themselves."
"Ohh! That makes sense. New Zealand is an island off the coast of Australia, in the South Pacific."
"Well, if ya call 1500 miles 'off the coast'," Trev admitted, "and it's three islands, if you don't count the Chathams. You're within cooee of the right answeh - that's more'n most people know."
"You're a long way from home. Why are you here?"
"Long story, that, mate. I'm really a journalist, sorta freelance. I pick stories I like, or go places I like, then write about it and sell my writing. I have some contacts on the Times, the London one I mean, and the Chicago Tribune. The Christchurch Press and the Auckland Star pick up my travel stories."
"So what are you writing about here, if you don't mind me asking," Clark tried to politely excuse his questioning of this stranger as they walked, worried that the bus accident had brought another journalist to the area.
"What *should* I write about? What do *you* think is interesting here?" Trev asked, which was about the last thing Clark expected him to say.
"I don't know!" He thought a moment. "It's a really nice place to live, I guess. I haven't really been too many other places to compare it with."
"Good on ya, boy. You should always stick up for the place where ya live, but be aware of your ignorance, too."
"I thought you'd be here to write about the bus accident."
"Yeah, I saw it in the papuhs. It's the reason I'm heah, but I just wanted to see how the fahm life compahed to home. All the cow-cockies at home woulda come runnin' to help out at an accident, too. Just like the pichuhs showed heah."
"Farmehs, 'specially dairy farmehs."
"Do they speak English in New Zealand?"
"Cheeky, ain't cha?" Trev cocked an eyebrow at Clark and smiled. "We, I mean Noo Zilind, ah paht of the Commonwealth, like Canada and Australia, so *we* speak English. I'm not so sure about you rebellious Yanks, though!"
Clark still couldn't decide whether to take the man seriously or not.
Trev continued walking and talking, "Most people heah think I sound English. The rest think I'm an Aussie. But I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Kiwi, a real one-eyed Cantabrian from the Mainland. And no matteh where I travel, I'm still a Kiwi."
Clark was intrigued by the odd speech, the odd clothes, the casual attitude to such large distances as this man must have travelled. "If you like home so much, and it's such a nice place, why did you leave?"
"The big OE got me! Overseas Experience," he translated, seeing the question in Clark's eyes. "Then ah just neveh quite got around to gettin' home for any length of time. I keep gettin itchy feet wheneveh I do get home. So many people still have relatives or connections in Britain that most young Kiwis go trippin' off ovehseas to the places they heah about. And because Noo Zilind is so fah from everything, once you get half way 'round the world, ya might as well see the lot. So I stahted my trip in London. Been there, done that. Saw all the shows, did the British Museum. Did you know they have the Rosetta stone there? You can really touch it. Stood beside the body of Elizabeth I in Westminsteh Abbey. It was like reaching across time. Then I did some bah tending in one of the country pubs. Joined a shearing gang for the summeh." He looked at Clark again. "Sheep shearing. It's almost a national sport back home. Then a mate and I bought an old Combi for 80 pounds and drove all oveh Europe, and down into North Africa. We lived on the smell of an oily rag. Got invited to eat with the locals sometimes. That was interesting. Sheep's eyes ain't something I'd recommend."
He noticed the horrified look on Clark's face. "I was guest of honoh at this sheep herdeh's tent in Morocco. The family had killed a sheep for a feast and invited me and Colin to join 'em. They cook the whole sheep and just pile everything up on rice in a huge metal sorta platter. The men eat first, then the women and kids. He was a poor man, but he gave me what he thought was the choicest bit. I didn't have a dog's show of refusing to eat it without insulting my host." Trev checked to see that Clark agreed with his decision before continuing.
"Next trip, I tried Egypt and Greece. We went swimming in the Nile. No problem with crocs, but you gotta stay outa the slow wateh. The slow wateh snails carry a nasty disease. I went up river on one of the felucca's and saw the Valley of the Kings. Hotteh than hell in the middle of the day. Graffiti was all over, some of it older than the Bible. Came home through Singapore and stopped and saw some of me mates in the Army contingent we've had theah since World Wah II. *Great* tuckuh! The soft shell crabs were as good as the ones in Maryland. I'd nevuh had cuttle fish before, though. There's just so many places to visit and new things to see.
"Writing about it all just got me the money so I didn't have to go home or bludge off me mates. I get to travel pretty much wheah I like, and get paid for it. It's a beaut way to travel. If I don't like a place, I just up stakes and go." He paused, then added, "Got *thrown* out of Singapore, actually, after that last brawl. What a dag!"
Clark was mesmerized. Such a totally different existence, so completely alien to the life he knew, suddenly gave him some hope that somewhere, there must be a place where he could fit in. Maybe he could just travel, too, then if he did something odd, people would just think it was one more odd thing about an odd stranger. That seemed really plausible, he thought, looking at this particular stranger. Clark suddenly had about a million questions to ask, but they were already coming up the lane to the house.
Martha, sensitive to Clark's moods as only a mother could be, noticed the livelier look in Clark's eye as he introduced the visitor. She insisted Trev stay for supper since it was almost time for Jonathan to come in.
While she and Clark set the table, Trev explained how he had been "just havin a wee kip" on the roadside when Clark came along. The clothes were his usual hardwearing, warm "tramping gear", no matter where in the world he found himself.
Over supper, after Jonathan had come in, Trev kept them entertained with the stories of his travels. There seemed to be few places he hadn't been over the years. His biggest complaint about the States was the inability to indulge in his favorite sport, cricket. He'd found rugby was played at some of the Mid-Western universities, but no one seemed to be able to get up a decent game of cricket. He tried explaining the rules, when Clark asked, but Clark found it hard to imagine any game that lasted five days or had such weird fielding positions as deep gully and square leg. It called up some very odd pictures in Clark's head. Trev described one of his fellow Kiwis, named Glenn Turner, batting for two solid days and making nearly 300 runs. Trev claimed this Turner was a world famous cricketer and the best "batsman" his New Zealand had ever had. When Clark commented that he'd never heard of Turner, he got an unexpected lecture.
"I'll bet you neveh heahd of Sir Donald Bradman, eitheh, but he's just about the most famous cricketeh this century."
Clark admitted he hadn't heard the name.
"In America, I've neveh found anyone who's heahd of him except ex-pats from Oz or England or Noo Ziland, and I did run into a West Indian up in Chicago not long ago. But you go to any country like India, Pakistan, England, South Africa, Australia, the West Indies, and they neveh heahd of Pete Rose." He paused to let the enormity of such ignorance of a great baseball player sink in on Clark, then continued his lecture. "But you mention Greg Chappell from Australia, Tony Greig or Geoff Boycott from England, Viv Richards or Lance Gibbs from the West Indies, Sunil Gavaskar from India, and Glenn Turner, or Richard Hadlee from my old school, Boys' High in Christchurch. Everyone in the Commonwealth who isn't one sandwich short of a picnic knows who they ahe. Bet you wouldn't know 'em from a bar a soap, would ya? That's 'cause it's a big world out thehe, and each paht thinks it's the most important paht. You don't have to go very fah to find you've fallen right off the edge of what you know."
Clark did at least realize that the game was *very* different from baseball, even though it was played with a bat and a ball similar in size to a baseball. He realized there was room in the world for many variations on a theme, room for even famous people to get lost in, and just maybe room for him, too.
Trev ended up staying at the Kent farm for three more days, helping out with the farm work and telling Clark stories of his travels and all the strange places and people he had seen. He wrote a piece for one of the papers "back home" and introduced Clark to the basic ideas of what made a good story. Clark was seeing enough of bad stories with the bus accident.
When Trevor McFarlane got dropped off at the bus station by Jonathan and Clark, he left Clark with a lot to think about, but he also left him with some renewed hope for the future and his place in it.
Mr. Edwards, at the drugstore, made it his aim to get every magazine and newspaper that printed something about the Smallville bus story. Clark followed the rest of the town in keeping track of what was printed. A few stories were good, accurate, stories and told - almost- what actually happened. A magazine called "Amazing Tales" compared their feat to several known cases of people lifting cars in an emergency situation and tried to explain how the body's adrenaline responded to an emergency.
One or two papers speculated about drug taking in small towns and what the two boys "had been on" to appear so strong. Scott got very upset because he was afraid any hint of any kind of drugs would jeopardize his chance of a football scholarship to college.
One story suggested the two boys were a new breed of human secretly created by the government. Another claimed they were really Martians in disguise - "no human could lift a full bus completely off the ground". The paper totally ignored the fact that the boys hadn't actually lifted the entire bus, just levered it up enough to rescue several people. An immediate investigation of "this government cover-up of alien visitors" was demanded, right below an impossible picture of Scott holding a bus over his head, obviously the result of a good cut and paste job. That story generated a whole bunch of crank calls to the Johnsons and the Wilsons from people who wanted to get in contact with "the people from outer space". One caller tried to book a flight to Alpha Centauri, offering to pay by credit card. Clark didn't know whether to laugh, get angry at, or be scared by the stories.
Jack Taylor came up with a reaction, but then didn't have the sense to keep his mouth shut.
"Hey Scott! When is the government gonna come for ya? Seen any strange lights out your bedroom window at night? Did you ask your mom what it was like to sleep with an alien?"
Scott, being a lot less tolerant than Clark, and a lot bigger, and with lots of friends on the football team, made sure Jack learned to control himself and his mouth. First the janitor cursed the profligate use of soap in the gym showers that week. Then Jack showed up for the bus one day in an odd state. His jacket sleeves had been pulled out and around him like a straitjacket, and the sleeves tied in a knot behind him so he couldn't get loose. Then a container of yoghurt somehow got loose in his school bag and burst all over his books. The final indignity was saved for Friday. Jack missed the school bus to go home - he was found with his arms around a pipe in the girls' toilets, padlocked through the button holes on his shirt cuffs, and trying to somehow slip out of his new shirt without tearing it.
But all of this made Clark do some very hard thinking. He came home and went up to his own private little world in the tree house. He needed to think about his future and about how his abilities might affect his parents, the two people he most cared about in the whole world.
How would their neighbors react if they found out the Kents had lied about Clark's adoption? Trust was all-important in a small farm town where the bank manager might go fishing with you but also determined if you got the extra loan to tide you over when the crop was late coming in. Would people make nasty comments about his mother, harass his parents? If the government got involved, would they put his parents in prison? They would certainly take him away from them since the Kents had no legal adoption papers. Clark had no idea how laws and courts worked to know what would happen if the "adoption" were questioned, and his imagination ran to all sorts of scary scenarios.
He had avoided detection this time, but could he afford to help people at such a risk to his parents? Could he *not* help people if they were in danger? Yet he didn't want to talk to his parents about the decision he knew he had to make, because he knew they would do anything for him - they had already done everything for him just by keeping and raising him. They wouldn't consider their own safety or comfort or fortune. They only wanted what was best for him, what would make him happy.
He wanted to be normal, but he knew he never could. He could only hide what he was and try to *appear* normal, have a normal life - like his friends. Might he suddenly grow another head or suddenly turn purple with green spots? Would Rachel or Sam or Hamish talk to him if they knew he might be some weird alien? There had to be some kind of life for him out there. He just had to find it. That silly little saying kept coming back to him - "Life is like an ice-cream cone. You have to learn to lick it." Round and round the thoughts went, just making tangles in his head.
Clark thought about his strange Kiwi visitor, all the strange and fascinating stories he had told, and all the strange people he had talked about- a world so big that being famous in one part meant nothing in another part. Some of the people seemed much stranger even than Clark, so strange that he wouldn't have believed it before, but he had checked out some of Trevor's stories. There were people in Africa who had feet more like a bird's than a human's, merely because the skin just hadn't formed correctly below the ankle in one area. There was a series of families in the West Indies whose girls changed to boys at puberty. The scientists were still trying to sort that out. Strange customs, strange people, strange beliefs. Yet a world so big and wide that somehow all these people managed to exist. Not always accepted, but at least tolerated. Just more tangles and knots in Clark's mind.
Finally, in complete confusion, Clark took out the pencil and sketchpad that he kept in the treehouse, and tried to list the good and bad points to having his abilities known.
Exposure meant publicity, and that could lead to lots of money and fame. He could make sure the farm was safe and his parents taken care of. He could travel and meet famous people. He could get his dad a new tractor *and* a new pick- up truck. His mom could have that new sewing machine she'd been looking at, and a new car to go to town in. He still couldn't have a normal life, but at least he wouldn't have to hide or pretend.
Exposure also meant he ran the risk of losing his parents forever. He could be taken away to a lab, like his father kept reminding him. He didn't really think the government or whoever took him would dissect him, but they *would* want to study him, maybe keep him in a cage. His parents could be put in jail, or their place in the community destroyed, the farm trampled and the crops damaged. He'd never get the chance to have anything approaching a normal, *human* life. Famous people didn't live normal lives - he'd been told what happened to people like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple and Elvis Presley. Fame and money hadn't made *them* happy.
*If* he kept quiet, he could still help people, like he had been doing already. He could make sure his parents would be safe. They might not get the new tractor and new car, but he knew that wasn't really what would make them happy. He could at least hope to have some semblance of a normal life. The world was a big place. If he slipped up and people started to notice things about him, he could move to another place where no one knew him.
If he kept quiet, he could maybe travel, like Trevor, and meet some of the strange people they had talked about. Maybe he could even find some people like himself one day - if he was an experiment or an alien, there might be others on earth like himself. At least he could look, and maybe sit on a beach in Tahiti, see the Great Barrier reef, get fed sheep's eyes in Morocco or boiled python in Sarawak. And… it would certainly be interesting! He could also learn about himself and his abilities, and just "up stakes and go" like Trevor if people began to pay too much attention.
Sitting there alone in the cold, Clark felt excited about the future and what it might hold. And he realized the decision to keep his abilities a secret had already been made.
Maybe one day, if he got tired of the travelling, he could move to a big, anonymous city like the one Hamish had come from, where you'd be lucky to even know the next door neighbor, let alone someone in the next block. He'd be the needle in the haystack, and just as hard to find. He could get a job, get to know people, settle down maybe, maybe have a family like his folks did.
He liked writing, and Trevor had shown him a way to use that to pay for travelling until he was ready to stay in one place. He knew Kansas and would always love it, but learning *all* the ways there were to be human - that sounded good. He smiled, no longer feeling like the world was rejecting him summarily but instead drawing him irresistibly. He jumped up and ran toward the house.
End of Turning Point - Coming of Age in Kansas