Written by Team Acenaut :: [Wednesday, 06 September 2006 16:26] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 08 April 2014 11:57]
The light of a full moon came slanting through the window of Lana's bedroom. Lana lay on her back, her hands clasped behind her head, hovering about eighteen inches above the bedspread. She had put on her pajamas and turned off the light an hour ago, but she was still wide awake, thinking of the wonderful abilities she now possessed. As if she could fall asleep after all the excitement of that afternoon! Besides, she didn't feel the least bit tired or sleepy. Her body seemed to be charged with an inexhaustible supply of energy.
She had spent the last hour experimenting with some of her new powers. Lying on her back, she made herself rise into the air, then sink slowly back onto the mattress, then rise again all the way to the ceiling. Then she flew around her bedroom in slow, lazy circles. How easy, how natural it already seemed!
She discovered that she could see everything in the darkened room -- the cracks in the ceiling, the pattern on the bedspread, the grain of the floorboards -- with perfect clarity and in minute detail. What's more, she could see through things. Lying on her back, she stared through the ceiling into the attic ; rolling over, she gazed through the floor of her bedroom into the living room below, where her father was still sitting up, frowning thoughtfully at the wreaths of smoke that drifted from his pipe, no doubt turning over in his own mind the amazing transformation his daughter had undergone.
Lana wondered if her hearing had been enhanced as well. She shut her eyes and listened, sorting through a myriad of sounds that reached her ears from all directions -- the fluttering of a moth against a window screen, the dripping of the faucet in the kitchen sink, the ticking of her father's wristwatch. Concentrating, she could hear, from her parent's bedroom at the other end of the hall, her mother's soft, regular breathing.
Lana and her parents had sat talking round the kitchen table for two hours after dinner. Mrs. Lang declared that Lana should start using her powers right away to help people in trouble. Lana was somewhat surprised: Her mother had always been such a worry-wart. But Mrs. Lang was certain that Lana's powers were a gift from God, and that they shouldn't go to waste. "Lana saved your life today, Henry," she said. "Think how many other lives she could save, think how many people she could help, think of all the good she could do -- like a ... like a guardian angel."
Lana had given her mother's hand a grateful squeeze. "That's exactly what I want to do, Daddy," she said. "Use my powers to help people. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel. Why, if I'd had these powers just a few hours sooner, I could have flown Clark to the hospital in no time!"
But Professor Lang had advised caution. He pointed out that Lana would need to learn how to use her powers skillfully and with good judgment. "Otherwise, she might hurt someone accidentally -- or cause an awful lot of damage without meaning to." Besides, once Lana's powers became public knowledge, all sorts of people would descend on the Langs' house like a swarm of locusts -- "people with advertising contracts and movie deals and crazy get-rich schemes ... Scientists would want to examine you, reporters would be asking us all kinds of impertinent questions And the military might try to take you away from us, turn you into some kind of secret weapon ... "
"Come on, Daddy," Lana said. "This is America, not the Soviet Union!"
Professor Lang had merely grunted.
In the end, it was agreed that Lana would keep her powers a secret for the time being. She could use them at home ; she could use them elsewhere as long as there was no possibility of being observed. She'd learn the extent of her powers, and how to control them ; and in the meantime, the three of them would try to figure out some way around Professor Lang's concerns.
Now, up in her dark bedroom, Lana sighed. She was beginning to feel bored. It had been fun to experiment with her super-vision and super-hearing, but she had so many other powers. If only I could fly out the window, she thought. Like Wendy in Peter Pan. Just for a little while ...
She sat up suddenly, crossing her legs Indian-style while floating above the bed. Why not? she thought. No one will see me. All the farmers around here go to bed early. An impish grin dimpled her cheeks as she considered the idea. Her parents hadn't actually forbidden her to fly out her bedroom window ... and she'd be back in just a few minutes ... and if they caught her, well, she could say that she'd gone out for a breath of fresh air ...
Giggling with excitement, she floated across to the window. She knew from experience that the floorboards of the old farmhouse creaked and groaned whenever she stepped on them -- but now she could move across her bedroom in perfect silence, unsuspected by her father in the room below.
It was a balmy night. The window was open, but covered by a screen held in place by half a dozen screws. Lana carefully inserted her thumbnail into the slot of the screw in the upper left corner, and turned it gently counter-clockwise. The screw yielded without any show of resistance. In less than a minute, all six screws were lying in a neat row on the windowsill.
With bated breath, Lana removed the screen and laid it quietly against the wall. A breeze drew the curtains outside, seeming to beckon her. There was nothing now between her and the moon-silvered lawn below ... nothing between her and slumbering Smallville and the wide world beyond ...
Lana knelt on the windowsill and stuck her head outside. The soft breeze of a June night caressed her cheek and tousled her hair. She hesitated for just a second ; then she pressed the palms of her hands against the window frame and launched herself out into the night.
She floated just outside the window for a moment. She looked around, her eyes shining with anticipation and delight -- along with a dash of nervousness at her own audacity. She glanced down at the back yard -- at her mother's garden and her father's tool shed and the picnic table and the clothesline. It was all so very familiar -- and yet somehow she felt as if she were seeing it for the first time.
I guess things will look different from up here, Lana thought. I'd better start getting used to it.
She looked at her yellow pajamas, wondering if she should go back into her room and put on a dark robe. Nah, she decided. I'll just make sure I'm too high up to be seen. She spread her arms, arched her back, and shot upwards like a Fourth of July rocket. Faster and faster she rose, her face lifted to the starry sky, the wind tossing her hair about and tugging at her pajamas. Better slow down, she thought.
Slowing to a halt, she looked down, wondering how high she was. A couple of thousand feet, she guessed. Her house looked as tiny as a Monopoly piece. The surrounding countryside lay spread out below her like a road map. Her eyes followed the two-lane road that ran past her house, all the way to the dark cluster of buildings that made up the town of Smallville : the bank and the post office, the diner and the general store, two churches -- Catholic and Methodist -- and an old wooden building that housed the library, the police station, and the town's one fire engine.
Spreading out from this tiny hub lay other buildings : the school, the orphanage -- and there was the John Deere dealership that Lex's uncle owned. A small plane stood in an adjacent field. Lana grinned, wondering what Lex would say if he knew that she could fly without a plane.
Oh, and there was Suzy Prentiss's house. Lana used her super-vision to peek into Suzy's bedroom. Suzy was sleeping peacefully in her pink nightgown, her golden hair fanned on her pillow ; and Lana smiled to see that she was clutching the tattered stuffed dog that she had had for as long as Lana could remember.
Two miles away, off to her right, Strawberry Lake gleamed in the moonlight. Lana scanned its shoreline with her super-vision. Fishermen sometimes went there at night, and Lana had heard that older kids liked to spread blankets by the lake and neck. An image arose in her mind -- an image of her and Clark ... She put it aside. But the only creature stirring at Strawberry Lake tonight was a deer that had stepped cautiously from the woods to take a drink.
Impulsively, Lana spread her arms and swooped down, gliding inches above the lake's mirror-smooth surface. The Milky Way spread out behind her reflection like a pair of gossamer wings. She dipped a finger into the water. A V-shaped ripple moved across the lake, breaking up her reflection, as she flew back up into the sky.
That's enough for now, she thought. I'd better get back to my room.
The Kents' farm lay between the lake and her house. I wonder how Clark's doing, she thought. She cast her super-vision through the roof of the Kents' house and into Clark's bedroom.
Clark was lying wide awake in the darkened room, staring morosely at the ceiling. He looks so worried, Lana thought. He's probably thinking about what happened to him today. That must have been so frightening for him. She felt a pang of guilt. Here she was, having so much fun with these wonderful powers of hers, while poor Clark might have died of heat exhaustion ... She shook her head sadly. If only I'd had these powers a few hours sooner ...
Doctors and nurses scurried aside as Lana flew down the hospital corridor. Clark lay unconscious in her arms. She slowed down and alighted by the door of an empty room. She carried Clark inside and laid him gently on the bed.
Clark's eyelids fluttered. A moment later, his gorgeous blue eyes were gazing into hers.
"Lana?" he asked, confused. "What -- ?"
Lana laid her finger ever so lightly on his lips. "It's all right, Clark," she said, smiling. "You fainted in the hot sun, and I flew you to the hospital. But you're going to be all right, I promise. I'll get a doctor to look at you ... "
"Lana, you -- you saved my life."
"Oh, Clark, I'd never let anything happen to you. I'll always look after you."
Clark began to sit up. Lana laid her finger on his chest and pushed him back down onto the bed.
"Clark Kent!" she scolded him. "You just lie back down and rest. I'm going to get a doctor." She giggled as he struggled to push himself upright. "It's no use, Clark. You can't resist me and you know it."
Clark grinned up at her. "Who says I want to?"
Lana's eyes softened. "Oh, Clark ... "
"Oh, Lana ... '
She closed her eyes and leaned forward. She could hear Clark's heart pounding as she brushed her lips tenderly against his ...
Branches snapped ; leaves rustled ; and a flock of starlings flew off, chirping indignantly. Lana was entangled in the upper branches of the locust tree that stood in the corner of the Langs' back yard.
Carefully, she crawled out. Floating fifty feet above the lawn, she looked herself over. A branch had ripped open the right leg of her pajamas, from the knee all the way to the cuff. Uh-oh, thought Lana. I'd better sew that up and hope Mom doesn't notice. But then she realized something : There was -- quite literally -- not a scratch on her. The skin of her leg was smooth, unbroken ...
Lana blinked. I guess I'm scratch-proof, she thought. I wonder if I'm ... anything-else-proof?
Well, there'd be time to find that out later. She wasn't hurt, but her mishap had left her feeling slightly shaken. She'd better be getting back to her room.
She saw that the kitchen light was on. Peering through the wall with her super-vision, she saw her father standing by the open door of the refrigerator. What was he doing? ...
Lana giggled, wagging her finger. Oh, Daddy! she thought. Well, if he caught her out of her room, she could tell Mom he'd been drinking milk right from the bottle!
But Professor Lang was still downstairs when Lana finished putting the screen back in her bedroom window, still downstairs when she lay back on her bed and pulled up the covers. Even now, she wasn't sleepy or fatigued, but ... mmm ... contentedly, she closed her eyes.
Five minutes later, when Professor Lang paused outside the door of Lana's bedroom, he could hear her breathing -- slowly, rhythmically, peacefully. He chuckled softly. My little girl's had quite a day, he thought. I had a feeling she'd sleep well tonight.
TEN DAYS LATER ...
Lana hopped off the school bus, waved good-bye to Suzy, took a handful of letters out of the mailbox, and hurried up the long dirt driveway. The school year was over, and Lana was looking forward to the best summer ever. There were so many things she wanted to do with her wonderful new powers!
Her bookbag bounced against her shoulder blades as she hurried toward the house. She was careful not to use her super-speed. Suzy might be watching her from the school bus, and she'd be bound to wonder how Lana could run so fast. Besides, her brunette wig might fall off.
Mrs. Lang looked up from her ironing. "Hello, Lana. How was the last day of school?"
"It was great." She set her bookbag down on a chair. "We have to read A Tale of Two Cities over the summer. Do you think Daddy would read me a chapter a night, now that we've finished The Hound of the Baskervilles?"
"I'm sure he'd be happy to. But you could read it yourself in just a couple of minutes, couldn't you? Last week you read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in less than half an hour."
"Read and memorized," said Lana. "I know. But it's more fun when he reads to me."
Mrs. Lang folded the shirt she'd been ironing and set it on the kitchen table. "That's very sweet of you, dear," she said, carefully laying another shirt on the ironing board. "Your father will be happy to know that you're still his little girl, despite these amazing gifts of yours ... Speaking of which," she added, "could you do me a favor? I lost an earring, right here in the kitchen, about an hour ago ... "
Lana was already scanning the kitchen floor, swiftly but methodically, with her super-vision. "I see it," she said. "It rolled under the refrigerator."
Lana reached behind the refrigerator and pulled out the plug. Placing her hands flat against its sides, she lifted it carefully and set it down a few feet away. She picked up the earring and handed it to her mother.
"Thank you, dear." Mrs. Lang put the earring back on.
"Happy to help," Lana replied, putting the refrigerator back in place. "I -- " Her super-acute sense of smell suddenly detected the aroma of scorched cloth. "Mom, the iron!"
Mrs. Lang turned round. The hot iron had fallen over onto the shirt. Tiny flames were springing up around its perimeter. Lana stepped forward and set the iron upright ; then she patted out the flames with her bare hands.
Mrs. Lang inspected the shirt ruefully. "Well, I guess this shirt is ruined. Are your hands all right?"
"Just fine," said Lana, holding her palms up. "I seem to be fire-proof. I'm beginning to think I'm impervious to just about everything."
"Well, until you know that for sure, be careful."
"Hey, Pumpkin!" Professor Lang hung his battered tweed cap on the back of a chair as he strode toward the refrigerator. "How was the last day of school?"
"It was great."
Professor Lang poured himself a glass of milk. "Listen, Dan Miller is letting my graduate students dig on his property this summer. I thought you and I might drive out there after dinner. You could check out the site with your x-ray vision."
"It's a date."
Mrs. Lang began folding a pair of khaki trousers warm from the iron. "Lana was wondering if you could read her A Tale of Two Cities this summer."
"Sure thing." He squinted up at the ceiling. "How does it begin? It was the best of times ... "
" ... it was the worst of times ... "
Clark read the first line of the book, then turned to the last page. His heart sank. Three hundred and ninety-seven pages! It would take him weeks to read it -- word by word, sentence by sentence, page by stupid page. Two weeks ago, he could have read the entire novel during the bus ride home. Now ...
The dull, familiar ache of anxiety gnawed at him. How can I go on living like this? he wondered. Everything was so difficult now -- from getting up in the morning, tired and groggy, to going to bed at night, sore in every muscle. Schoolwork, chores ... and the constant, inescapable tug of gravity. What he wouldn't give to be able to shake off its shackles, to leap into the air, to fly -- if only for a minute!
Clark shoved the book into his hip pocket and pulled open the screen door.
Ma Kent looked up from the piecrust she was rolling. "Hello, Clark," she said. "How was your day?"
Clark shrugged. "It was okay, I guess."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"What is there to talk about?"
Blinking behind her thick spectacles, Ma Kent regarded her son sadly. She could hardly imagine what it must have been like for him, having those amazing powers -- and what it must be like to have lost them. No wonder Clark seemed moody, withdrawn, anxious ... She could only hope that with time he would come to accept what had happened to him.
She and Jonathan had sat up late every night since that afternoon at the hospital, talking about Clark and the loss of his powers. They kept their voices low, for Clark had been sleeping badly ever since that awful day and they didn't want him to overhear.
"Just think of all the things he used to be able to do," Ma had said. "And he never knew what it was to be any different. But now -- " Tears welled up in her eyes. "It must be like being blind and deaf and crippled, all at once."
"He's not blind and he's not deaf and he's not crippled," her husband had retorted. "For gosh sakes, Martha, just look at the muscles on the boy. He may have lost those fancy powers of his, but he's no worse off than any other boy his age -- and a lot better off than some."
Jonathan Kent wasn't an unkind man -- far from it -- but like most men of his generation he'd known his share of hardship, and he had little patience with those who complained about their lot in life.
"What's for supper?" asked Clark.
"I'm afraid for you and your pa, it'll be meat-loaf sandwiches and a slice of angel food cake. He spent the whole afternoon baling the north forty, and he needs your help getting the bales into the barn. Then the two of you will take the combine and help Mr. Miller get his crop in." She handed Clark a brown paper bag packed with his cold supper.
Inwardly, Clark groaned. He had just gotten home from school and right away he had chores to attend to. What a miserable summer this is going to be, he thought.
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER ...
The bale dropped to the bed of the pick-up with a heavy thump.
"Remember, Clark." said his father. "Lift with your back, not with your arms."
"Right." Stooping, Clark slid his gloved fingers under the baling wire ; then he heaved the bale over the tailgate with a loud grunt. He drew his arm across his sweaty forehead while Pa Kent carried the bale over to the growing stack in the corner of the barn.
Clark was out of breath, his arms and shoulders ached, and he could feel his heart pounding in his chest, hard and fast. He'd never realized that there were so many ways of being uncomfortable. He was sweating profusely in the heat, his eyes were red from all the dust and pollen in the air, and bits of hay had fallen down his collar, making him itch. Could things be any worse? he wondered.
As if in answer to his question, the end of a piece of baling wire scratched his forearm. Clark stared aghast at the line of blood oozing from the gash. He'd never seen his own blood before.
"I'd better put some iodine on that," said his father. He took a small bottle from a shelf in the barn and hopped up on the tailgate. "This will sting a little," he warned.
Clark rolled his eyes. What else is new?
He winced and let out a cry as his father dabbed iodine on his scratch. "Oh, come on," said his father. "It can't be that bad." Then his face softened. "I'm sorry, son. I know this is all new to you." He put the stopper back on the iodine bottle. "Now let's get the rest of those bales into the barn, then we'll have our supper, and then we'll take the combine over to Dan Miller's."
Clark nodded glumly. The thought of spending the rest of his life on the farm filled him with dread. I may never get my powers back, he thought, but one thing's for sure -- whatever it takes, I'm going to get away from this farm and away from this crummy little town ...
Clark bounced and swayed in his seat as the combine jolted across Mr. Miller's field. Pa Kent slowed it to a halt, then turned the ignition key. The roar of the engine ceased abruptly.
"Now let's find Dan," said Pa, climbing down from his seat behind the wheel. "We should have a good ninety minutes of daylight left."
What's so good about it? Clark thought sullenly as he hopped down.
Three figures, silhouetted against the western sky, were walking toward them. "There's Dan," said Pa. "And that's Henry Lang and your friend Lana. I guess Dan is going to let Henry dig around on his land this summer."
Lana raised her arm over her head and waved it back and forth in a wide arc. "Hi, Clark!" she shouted.
"Aw, geez," Clark muttered. As if his day wasn't bad enough ...
His father poked him. "Mind your manners, son. I know you're upset about ... what happened to you, but don't go taking it out on Lana."
"After all -- it's not as if she had anything to do with it."
"Lana!" exclaimed Mrs. Putnam, holding the screen door open for her visitor. "What a nice surprise! Come on in!"
"Thank you, Mrs. Putnam." Lana stepped into the living room, her arms wrapped around a large cardboard carton. "My mom asked me to drop this off while she's doing some errands here in town. It's for the church rummage sale -- mostly dresses and things that I've outgrown."
"Well, isn't that thoughtful of her! Thank you, Lana. You can just put that down by the sofa. Would you like a glass of lemonade?"
"Yes, thank you." Lana set down the carton as Mrs. Putnam disappeared into the kitchen.
"Oh, by the way, Lana," Mrs. Putnam said, opening the refrigerator. "There's a box by the coffee table. It's got some of my daughter's old books in it. Now that she's grown up and moved out, I'm giving them to the rummage sale. I know you like to read. You're welcome to take any of them." Lana heard ice cubes clinking in a glass.
"Thank you." Lana began rummaging through the box. She was too old for most of the books, but she thought she should take a couple to be polite. She held up two Nancy Drew books as Mrs. Putnam came out of the kitchen, carrying a tray with two tall glasses of lemonade and a plate of ginger-snaps. "I'll take these, if I may."
"Of course, dear." Setting the tray down on the coffee table, she lowered herself into a chair and reached for one of the glasses. "Phyllis loved Nancy Drew."
Lana bit into a ginger-snap. "What's in that other box?" she asked, nodding toward an open carton by the sofa.
"Oh, just some of my son's old comic books," said Mrs. Putnam. "I'm surprised I didn't throw them out a long time ago. I was going to donate them to the rummage sale, but I doubt that anyone would want them."
Lana glanced at the box without much interest -- until she saw the cover of the comic book resting on the top of the stack.
A pretty brunette in a red-and-yellow costume was flying up through a thundercloud -- just as Lana had done during that big storm last week. "WOW COMICS," proclaimed bold yellow letters across the top of the cover.
Fascinated, Lana picked up the magazine for a closer look. The girl was wearing a red skirt and a red short-sleeved blouse, both trimmed with yellow, and a large yellow thunderbolt was emblazoned across her chest. A pair of snug yellow boots and a fetching white cape completed the costume. Lana glanced at the bottom of the cover and read "MARY MARVEL, THE WORLD'S MIGHTIEST GIRL, SOARS TO NEW HEIGHTS OF ACTION ... "
Lana looked at the next comic book in the stack. There was the same girl, in a short-skirted version of the same costume, sitting atop a mountain peak. A scroll in the lower right corner of the cover proclaimed "Starring MARY MARVEL, the 'SHAZAM' GIRL ... "
Lana blinked. Who was this Mary Marvel character? Whoever she was, she seemed to have super-powers just like her own. She could fly ... she was called "the world's mightiest girl" ...
"Er ... Mrs. Putnam," said Lana. "Could -- could I take these, too, please?"
Mrs. Putnam looked surprised. "Certainly, dear, if you'd like. Goodness knows, I can't imagine anyone paying money for those musty old things."
Lana swallowed the last bite of her ginger-snap and finished her lemonade. She got up and put the two Nancy Drew books into the box of comic books. "I'd better be going," she said. "My mom should be finished with her errands by now. Thank you for the lemonade -- and for these." She lifted the box off the floor.
"You're welcome, dear. Thank you for dropping off those clothes. Can you carry that box all right? It's kind of heavy."
"It's okay." Lana smiled. "I think I can manage."
Lana sat down in the front row of the bleachers, near the 50-yard line. The football team was running drills by the end zone, and cheerleading tryouts were in progress not far from where Lana was sitting. The sky was hazy, and the heat of late summer lay on the playing field. But school would begin in another week, and the cool crisp days of autumn would soon follow.
Lana smiled as she thought back over the last three months. It had been the best summer ever. Every day had been a wonderful adventure as she tested her amazing powers -- awkwardly and hesitantly at first, but with growing confidence and skill as the weeks went by.
She had juggled granite boulders in the vast empty tundra high above the Arctic Circle ; she had swum alongside whales in the Pacific Ocean ; she had gone skinny-dipping in the red-hot lava of a Polynesian volcano. Best of all, she had spent hour after hour flying high above the earth, sometimes drifting lazily with the clouds, sometimes rocketing ahead at speeds that split the air behind her with a low rumble like thunder.
There seemed to be no limit to what she could do. There was nothing so heavy she couldn't lift it, nothing so fast she couldn't outrace it, nothing that could cause her the slightest harm or the least discomfort.
Yes, it had been a wonderful summer. But Lana was looking forward to her first year of high school, and to spending more time with her friends. In fact, that was why she had dropped by the football field this afternoon.
Mrs. Johanssen., the cheerleading coach, was watching Suzy Prentiss perform her solo routine. Suzy's ponytail bounced against her shoulders as she hopped up and down, shaking her pom-poms and shouting "Go, Crows!" She turned a cartwheel and landed nimbly on her tiptoes, her arms stretched up over her head and a dazzling smile lighting up her face.
Lana stood up and applauded enthusiastically.
"Thank you, Suzy," said Mrs. Johanssen, making a note on her clipboard. "Next?"
Suzy ran over to the bleachers and sat down next to Lana. "Hi, Lana. Thanks for coming."
"You looked great."
"Thanks, but I doubt I'll make the cut. I'm only a freshman."
Lana used her super-vision to steal a peek at Mrs. Johanssen's clipboard. "Don't worry. I have a feeling you're going to get called back."
"Do you think so?"
Lana smiled. "I know so."
"Come on." Suzy stood up. "Let's check out the football players."
Lana and Suzy strolled downfield. "Oh, I'm having a slumber party Friday night," said Suzy. "Can you come?"
"Well, I'll have to check with my parents, but I don't see why not." Lana smiled. It would be fun to get together with her friends before the new school year began.
"Great! We're going to do each other's hair. I saw a hairstyle in a magazine that would look really cute on you."
Uh-oh, thought Lana. She couldn't let her friends find out that her brunette hair was a wig ...
The football players were lined up in two rows, facing each other, ten yards apart. Coach Stevens stood between them, holding the ball in one hand and a whistle in the other. At a blast from the whistle, the boy at the end of one row ran forward, grabbed the ball, and rushed the opposite line. Two boys lunged toward him, knocking him to the ground with a bone-jarring thump that made Suzy wince.
"Golly," she said. "I can't imagine anyone standing up to that -- can you?"
Lana suppressed a giggle. "I sure can't."
The three boys were getting up. "All right, Ross," shouted the coach. "Walk it off." Pete Ross removed his helmet, shook his head, and trotted off toward the sideline.
The next boy ran forward and took the ball from the coach's hand. Lowering his head, he sent the first of his would-be tacklers sprawling with a shoulder check. He dodged to the left and ran past his second opponent. Legs churning, he left his pursuer far behind and kept on running until a blast from the coach's whistle called him back.
"Way to go, Kent!" shouted the coach. "Just save some of that for the first game!"
Suzy's eyes widened. "Oh my gosh! Is that Clark Kent? Boy, he sure filled out over the summer. Look at those shoulders! And did you see him knock down that senior? With him on the team, we might have a shot at a championship!"
Uh-oh, thought Lana. Suzy had never shown any special interest in Clark before, but now ... Lana cast a sidelong glance at Suzy's pretty face, her shiny blonde hair, her blue eyes. What chance will I have if she sets her sights on Clark? And Suzy had filled out quite a bit herself over the summer ...
... not that I couldn't give her a run for the money in that department -- if I wanted to. Somewhat self-consciously, Lana tugged at her loose cotton blouse. She had her reasons for letting people think that Lana Lang was a scrawny brunette ...
She glanced at her watch. "I should get going," she said. "Let me get back to you about that slumber party. We, uh, might be going to Topeka on Friday to visit my grandparents."
"Hm? Okay." Suzy hardly seemed to be listening. She raised her arm over her head and waved at Clark. "Hey, Clark! You looked super out there!"
Up in her bedroom, Lana was sitting cross-legged in mid-air, bent over a comic book that lay open on her lap.
She had read and re-read all of the Mary Marvel comics that Mrs. Putnam had given her, but she never tired of looking at them. Carefully, now, she turned a brittle, yellowing page. There was Mary Batson, saying the magic word that transformed her into the world's mightiest girl:
And there she was, beating up some crooks ...
... and dragging them off to jail:
Mary Marvel was such an amazing heroine -- strong and brave, helpful and kind-hearted ... Why, she was just like the Scarlet Pimpernel -- except that she was a girl ... and had super-powers ... A far-off look came into Lana's eyes as she closed the comic book and began to daydream about wearing a colorful costume like Mary Marvel's and having adventures like hers ... And why not? she thought. I have all her powers, plus a few others ...
Unfortunately, the comic books never explained how she kept her everyday identity a secret. Mary Marvel looked just like Mary Batson -- except for the costume, of course. And how come her costume never got burned or torn? Probably it was just part of the magic that gave her powers ...
Lana's mother tapped on the open door. "Dinner will be ready soon," she said, coming into the bedroom. "Time to come down and set the table."
"Goodness," said Mrs. Lang. "Are you reading those old comic books again?"
Lana grinned sheepishly. "I know they're kind of silly," she said. "But think about it, Mom -- I could be just like Mary Marvel ... using my powers to help people and fight crime." She held up the comic book she'd been reading. Mary Marvel was swooping across the cover, driving her fist through an open newspaper and into the jaw of a scowling, heavy-faced man:
"MARY MARVEL CRUSHES CRIME!" proclaimed the headline on the newspaper.
Mrs. Lang peered at the comic book. "I don't know, Lana," she said. "Putting out fires and finding lost children is one thing, but don't you think you should leave crime-fighting to the police?"
"But I could help the police. I could find stolen loot with my super-vision, and I could chase getaway cars with my super-speed -- "
Mrs. Lang was shaking her head. Where did Lana get such ideas? Probably from that television show The Untouchables ...
"I don't think you should be fighting anybody, dear," she said. "Not even criminals. You could easily hurt somebody with your super-strength. You wouldn't want that, would you? And besides, there's hardly any crime here in Smallville, thank goodness -- and what there is, Chief Parker can handle just fine on his own."
"I guess." Lana was kneeling on the floor, putting the comic book back into the box she kept under her bed.
"Oh, by the way," said Mrs. Lang. "Lex Luthor called while you were out earlier. He wants to know what time you want to meet him at the library Saturday to work on that history report."
"Thanks. I'll call him back after dinner."
"He seems like a nice young man," said Mrs. Lang. Her tone was casual, but she watched her daughter closely.
"Hmmm?" Lana stood up. "Yeah, he is."
She hadn't blushed, or averted her eyes ... Mrs. Lang tried another approach. "So," she said, "will you be going to the fall dance next week?"
"I -- I don't know yet." Mrs. Lang caught the slight hesitation in her daughter's reply, and saw her eyes shift toward the bulletin board that hung over her desk. Pinned to the board was an article clipped from the Crawford County Courier. "FRESHMAN QB TAKES CROWS TO STATE QUARTER-FINALS" ran the headline, right above a photograph of Clark Kent in his football uniform, his helmet tucked under one arm and a broad grin on his face.
"I mean, no one's asked me," Lana explained. "Maybe I'll go with a couple of the other girls ... "
Her voice trailed off. She tilted her head to one side, gazing intently at her mother's face.
"Mom, could I borrow your glasses for a moment?"
Mrs. Lang raised her eyebrows in surprise, but she took off her glasses and handed them to her daughter.
Lana turned to face the mirror over her dresser. She smoothed back her red hair and set her brunette wig in place; then she put on her mother's glasses.
There! she thought. The wig, plus the glasses ... I look like a completely different person.
"Mom," she said, studying her reflection, "I think I need glasses ... "
Lana rinsed the last of the dinner dishes, dried it with a glance of her heat vision, and handed it to her mother.
Mrs. Lang put the dish away in the cupboard. "Do you have much homework tonight, dear?"
"I finished all my reading assignments on the bus," Lana replied. Sitting in a back seat, she'd been able to flip through the pages at super-speed without being observed. "All I have left is math."
Sitting down at the newly-cleared kitchen table, she opened her algebra book and took a sheet of paper from her binder. She scanned the assignment at a glance. Factor each polynomial completely ...
Mrs. Lang watched, fascinated, as Lana's pencil raced across the sheet of paper at super-speed. Nearly invisible, it moved steadily down the sheet of paper, leaving line after line of neatly written numbers and symbols in its wake.
"Done!" Lana wrote her name at the top of the paper, folded it neatly, and tucked it inside her textbook.
"That must have been a difficult assignment," Mrs. Lang remarked dryly. "It took you, what, all of five seconds?"
"Well, you know what happens if I write too fast," Lana grinned. "I wouldn't want Mr. Hanley to wonder why my homework paper is all shredded and scorched."
Professor Lang strolled into the kitchen and turned on the radio. There was a hiss of static as he adjusted the knob, followed by the voice of an announcer for a Crawfordsville station.
" ... winter storm is still moving across the tri-county area, making conditions extremely hazardous. Listeners are advised to remain in their homes, or -- if they are out on the roads -- to drive with extreme caution ... "
Lana stood up. "Okay if I go out and patrol the roads until the storm lets up?"
Professor Lang glanced at his wife, then nodded. "I think that's a super idea."
Lana hurried upstairs to her room. A heartbeat later, she was back down in the kitchen, tucking her red hair under a black ski mask. She had changed into a pair of dark ski pants, a black windbreaker, and black woolen gloves.
"Be careful, dear," said Mrs. Lang. "We know you're invulnerable, but still -- "
"Don't worry, Mom." Lana pulled the mask down over her head. The next moment, she was out the front door and leaping upward into the pitch dark and the driving snow ...
But neither the snow nor the darkness hindered her super-vision as she began patrolling the roads that stretched across the level farmland. And she felt perfectly comfortable, despite the bitter cold, the piercing wind, the stinging snow. She flew low, about fifty feet above the ground, knowing that few people were outside and confident that she was well camouflaged in her dark clothes.
Minutes passed, turning into an hour, as Lana flew tirelessly back and forth. She vaporized patches of ice with her heat vision. She scattered snowdrifts with her super-breath. From time to time she saw the headlights of a car or truck, feeble in the swirling snow; but the few drivers out on the road seemed to be moving with caution, and there were no accidents for her to deal with.
Eventually the storm began to let up, and Lana decided to head home. The moon, peeping through tatters of cloud, cast a sheen on the snow-covered landscape below. Flying over a field to the north of Strawberry Lake, Lana glanced down and noticed a shivering figure, dark against the snow. It was a fawn -- and its right foreleg was caught in a trap.
Lana knew that farmers set traps to keep deer away from their crops during the growing season, and that many of them shot deer for venison. Lana felt sorry for the animals, but she understood the farmers' point of view. But this ...
The fawn tried to limp away as Lana flew down. "Don't be afraid," she murmured. "I'm here to help you." She stroked the fawn's back, using her heat vision to bring warmth back into its half-frozen legs. Soon the fawn stopped shivering and began rubbing its nuzzle against Lana's windbreaker.
Lana knelt down and grabbed the steel jaws of the trap. The powerful spring was no match for her super-strength, and in a moment she had pried it open and freed her new friend. She frowned at the contraption in her hands. It wasn't her property, but it had no business being out here in the middle of winter ... Impulsively, she crumpled the trap into a ball and heaved it toward Strawberry Lake. She heard the crack of breaking ice, and a soft kerplop as the mangled wad of metal sank to the bottom of the lake.
"Now where's your mother?" Lana asked. Her super-vision quickly spotted a doe hiding in the shadow of some trees that fringed the lake. Lana gave the fawn a gentle slap on the rump, and it trotted off, limping slightly, toward its mother.
Airborne once again, Lana noticed the headlights of a pick-up pulling out of the high school parking lot. A quick peek revealed that it was being driven by Robbie McMillan, captain of the basketball team, and that Clark was in the passenger seat. Robbie must be giving Clark a ride home after practice. The storm was over and the road was clear; still, Lana decided to escort the pick-up at a discreet altitude, just in case ...
* * *
Clark hopped out of the pick-up. "Thanks for the lift."
"Any time," said Robbie. "Just remember what I told you: When you rebound, box your opponent out first, then jump."
"I'll remember that. See you tomorrow." Clark shut the door and began wading through a shin-deep snowdrift toward his front door. Shivering, he hunched his shoulders and turned up the collar of his jacket. It had stopped snowing, but a bitter wind was whipping loose flakes against his face. Man, I hate winter, he thought.
His mother was waiting up for him, wrapped in a flannel nightgown and a thick robe. "There you are," she said as Clark wiped his feet on the doormat. "I was worried about you. The man on the radio said the roads were dangerous."
"They weren't that bad," said Clark, hanging up his hat and scarf. "Robbie gave me a ride home."
"I put some sandwiches and milk out for you. And a slice of apple pie. I know you still have homework to do."
"Thanks." Clark picked up a sandwich from the plate on the kitchen table and bit into it hungrily.
"Good night, Clark," said his mother. "Don't stay up too late." She shuffled upstairs as Clark gulped down half the glass of milk.
Clark stared morosely at the stack of schoolbooks on the kitchen table. Playing football -- and now basketball -- meant that his father cut him some slack on chores, but he needed to keep his grades up or he'd be off the team ... Swallowing the last forkful of pie, he picked up the books and plodded upstairs to his room.
A knot of frustration tightened in his stomach as he opened his algebra book and stared at the homework problems with weary eyes. This stuff used to be so easy. Now he could barely understand it. Factor each polynomial completely ... What was the point? But if poor grades kept him off the team, he could kiss his chances of winning an athletic scholarship good-bye. And then he'd be stuck in Smallville forever ...
He was getting sleepy and the bedroom was cold and drafty. Yawning, shivering, he forced himself to look at the first problem: x squared plus 5x plus 6 ... Groaning, he laid his head on the desk. I'll just rest my eyes for a minute ...
Passing the open door of Clark's bedroom at half past five the next morning, Ma Kent saw that he was fast asleep at the desk.
A groan of disappointment rose from the bleachers as Sean Casey, the Crows' top slugger, shuffled away from the plate, dragging his bat mournfully behind him.
The Crawfordsville outfield began trotting toward the benches; the Smallville outfield began getting into position; and the umpire and the coaches huddled by the pitcher's mound. Lana strolled toward the wooden booth where Lex was keeping score and phoning updates to KROW, a local radio station that broadcast from a tiny building on Steuben Road.
Lex was holding the receiver to his ear; he winked at Lana but held up a finger for silence.
"Ready?" he asked his listener. "Okay. Cooney and Barrows struck out. Flynn singled; Blake doubled. Then Casey struck out. That's right. Bottom of the eighth, Gophers 4, Crows 2." He paused, listening. "Probably. I think they're discussing it right now. I'll let you know."
He hung up and smiled at his visitor. "Lana! I didn't know you were a baseball fan."
"Well, I'm not a very happy fan at the moment. Can you believe Sean struck out?"
"I know. He just let those first two pitches sail past him."
"It must be the curse."
Lex raised an eyebrow. "The curse?"
"Yeah. Haven't you heard that story? Back in 1920, Smallville's best hitter moved to Crawfordsville -- and in all the years since then, the Crows haven't won a single game against the Gophers." Lana nodded toward the pitcher's mound, where the umpire and coaches were still talking animatedly. "What do you suppose they're talking about?" She could hear every word, of course, but she wasn't going to let Lex know that.
"Probably whether to stop the game." The sky had been overcast all afternoon, but the clouds now hung low in the sky, dark and menacing. A breeze had sprung up, foreboding rain.
Lana frowned. "Oh, no! If they stop the game now, it'll go down as another loss for Smallville." She thought quickly. Clark had just been brought in as pitcher, and he'd have a turn at bat in the bottom of the next inning -- assuming there'd be a next inning ... If anyone could break the curse, she felt, it would be Clark.
"Well, let's keep our fingers crossed," she said. "Excuse me -- I, um, better get my umbrella ... just in case ."
Lana stepped out of the booth, ducked behind the bleachers, and hurried toward the school building. Slipping around a corner of the gymnasium, she quickly removed her dress, her wig, and her glasses and hid them behind a row of trash bins. Beneath her loose outer clothing she was wearing a pair of khaki shorts and a Crows t-shirt. Pausing only to pull her baseball cap snugly over her red hair, she flew straight up toward the black clouds blanketing the sky.
Moments later, she burst through into the sunlight. Heavy with rain, the clouds stretched all the way to the horizon like a dark and sullen sea. Hovering above them, Lana puckered her lips and started to inhale. Her chest swelled as she breathed inward, filling her lungs with hundreds of cubic feet of air, until ...
That's enough, she decided. She saw that the thin fabric of her t-shirt was straining against her torso. She drew her mouth into a tiny round aperture, puffed out her cheeks, and started to exhale. A thin but powerful stream of air shot from her lips. The rain clouds began to stir; propelled by Lana's super-breath, they piled up into high banks and began gliding eastward. A rift opened in the clouds, widening rapidly and allowing a shaft of bright sunlight to fall on the baseball field thousands of feet below.
Lana continued to blow. The rain clouds were gathering momentum and sailing briskly off to the east. The patch of sunlight grew, chasing the dark line of shadow off the field. With her super-vision, Lana could see faces turned toward the sky -- the umpire and coaches, the players on the field, the spectators in the bleachers. An awed murmur rose to her ears; amazement gave way to joy as the umpire called out "Play ball!"
Cheers resounded from the bleachers as Clark Kent strode toward the pitcher's mound and the Crawfordsville batter stepped up to the plate.
Back to the game, thought Lana. That's one assist that won't show up on the scorecard!
* * *
Lana stepped into the booth and set two bottles of Coca-Cola on the table. "Thanks again for letting me watch the ninth inning with you."
"Any time," said Lex. "Best seats in the house." He took his hand off the mouthpiece of the telephone and lifted the receiver to his ear. Mr. Hertz, the manager of KROW, had asked Lex to announce the ninth inning live.
Lex spoke into the phone as Lana picked up one of the bottles. "Folks, if you're just tuning in, I'm speaking from the Smallville High School stadium, where the Crows are playing their long-standing rivals, the Crawfordsville Gophers. It's the bottom of the ninth inning, and things look very much as they did at the bottom of the eighth. The Crows are behind, 4 to 2; they have two outs and two men on base. Freshman Clark Kent is at bat. One ball, one strike -- and the Gophers' pitcher has called for a time out."
Lex cleared his throat before continuing. "Kent was called in to pitch at the top of the ninth. He struck out three batters and gave up just one base hit. It looks as if Smallville's 'Boy of Steel' will be a force to be reckoned with on the baseball diamond, just as he is on the football field and the basketball court ... All right, the catcher is back behind the plate ... here comes the pitch ... ball two."
Lana was leaning forward in her chair, gripping the unopened bottle, intent on the game. Her eyes never left Clark for a moment as Lex continued to speak into the telephone.
"The pitcher is winding up ... here it comes ... Kent swings ... he hits!" The crowd in the bleachers was on its feet -- cheering, whistling, applauding. Lex raised his voice. "The ball is going up ... up ... and away! It's a long drive into deep center field!" The roar of the crowd swelled to an ecstatic crescendo. "Here comes Englehart ... Cassidy ... and Clark Kent is back at home plate!"
Lex and Lana were on their feet. Lana was hopping up and down, shaking the Coca-Cola bottle and squealing with excitement.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you can mark your scorecards! Smallville wins, 5 to 4! The Crows have broken the curse!" Spectators were rushing onto the diamond and hoisting Clark on their shoulders. Eyes shining, Lana set the bottle on the table and threw her arms around Lex.
"Wasn't that amazing?"
The receiver fell unheeded from Lex's hand. He was aware of nothing but Lana's arms wrapped around his shoulders, her body pressed against his ... pressed hard ...
Pfft! The cap flew off the Coca-Cola bottle; thick white foam rose up its neck and ran down its side and onto the table ...
"Uh ... Lana?" Lex's voice was strained. "Could you -- a little less -- ?"
"Huh?" Lana blinked. "Oh my gosh!" She released Lex and stepped back. Her hand flew up to her mouth. "Are you okay?"
Lex took a deep breath and gave her a wobbly grin. "Yeah, I'm fine -- thanks!"
"I'm sorry," Lana said sheepishly. "The excitement ... Clark ... adrenaline, you know?"
"I guess. But don't be sorry!" He blushed. "Say, Lana ... I was wondering ... the spring dance ... "
"Hmm?" Lana was only half-listening. "Uh, excuse me, Lex -- I'm going to congratulate Clark."
The next moment, Lex was alone in the booth. Self-consciously, he adjusted the front of his trousers, picked the receiver off the floor, and began wiping Coca-Cola off the table with his handkerchief.