Written by Team Acenaut :: [Thursday, 06 September 2007 16:09] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 08 April 2014 11:56]
Ma Kent frowned at her son.
"Clark! Slow down! Just because you have super-speed, that doesn't mean you have to gobble your breakfast."
Clark looked up sheepishly.
"Sorry, Ma. It's just that your pancakes are especially good this morning." He held out his empty plate. "Could I have another stack, please?"
Ma Kent began pouring batter onto the skillet. "Are you sure you have time?" she asked. "You don't want to be late for school."
"Don't worry, Ma. Today's the day our class is going rock-hunting at Gopher Gulch. Mr. Frick told us to meet in the school parking lot at 9:00."
"Well, it's nearly 8:30 now," said Pa Kent, setting down his empty coffee cup. "And unless I'm mistaken, you haven't done your chores yet."
"Be right back." Clark rose from the table and disappeared in a burst of super-speed. The screen door had barely swung shut before he was back in the kitchen.
"All done, Pa," he said, sitting down to a stack of pancakes hot off the skillet.
"You got those bales of hay down from the loft?"
"And unloaded those bags of chicken feed from the pick-up?"
"And mended that section of the north fence?"
"Good as new."
Ma Kent sat down and poured herself a glass of orange juice. "Goodness!" she said. "I'm surprised your clothes didn't catch fire -- again."
"Gee, Ma," said Clark. "That hasn't happened for months. See, Pa? I know how to control my super-powers. How much longer do I have to keep them a secret?"
"Now, son, we've been over that. You're a mature and level-headed young man, and you use your powers with good judgment, and your ma and me, we couldn't be prouder. But you're not even fifteen yet, and -- well, folks might be leery of the notion of someone that young having that much power."
"Besides," said Ma. "Once people know that you have all those amazing powers, we'd never have a moment's peace. You'd never have a moment's peace. Folks would be wanting you do things for them morning, noon, and night -- not to mention scientists wanting to poke at you and reporters asking you all kinds of questions -- "
Clark's face fell. "So what you're saying is, I've got to keep my powers a secret forever?"
"We didn't say that," said Pa. "Your mother and I have been giving it a whole lot of thought, and we've had a few ideas. But the time's not right yet."
"So how much longer am I going to have to wait?"
"Be patient, son. Another year or two ... "
"Two years?" Clark was dismayed.
Pa Kent grinned. "You sound like me, when your grandpa told me I'd have to wait till I was fifteen to drive the tractor."
"Don't fret, Clark," said Ma. "You're going to do great things with those powers of yours, and it wouldn't be right for us to stand in your way."
There was a knock at the screen door.
"Hello, Mr. Kent ... Mrs. Kent. Hi, Clark!"
Lana Lang was standing on the doorstep. She was wearing blue jeans and a red cotton shirt, and a wide-brimmed straw hat shaded her face from the sun. Clark rolled his eyes.
"Hello, Lana," said Ma. "Come in!"
"Thanks." She stepped into the kitchen. "My dad's driving me to school this morning, and I wondered if we could give Clark a lift."
"Well, that's very thoughtful of you, Lana -- isn't it, Clark?"
"Yeah. Thanks," Clark muttered.
"Great!" she beamed. "I'll go tell Daddy you're coming." She turned and ran out the door.
"Aw, Ma, do I have to?" wailed Clark as soon as Lana was out of earshot.
"Now, Clark, mind your manners," said Ma. "Lana and her father were nice enough to offer you a ride, so wipe that pout off your face and get in that car."
Clark sighed. "Yes, Ma."
Pa Kent grinned. "Cheer up, Clark. That Lana's a mighty pretty girl. I'm guessing that a year or two down the road. you'd be singing a different tune if she was to offer you a ride."
"Huh! Not me! She's nothing but a pest!" Clark slung his knapsack over his shoulder and stalked out of the kitchen.
Ma Kent started to clear away the breakfast dishes. "Lana is a pretty girl, isn't she? It's a shame her hair got darker as she grew older. She had such beautiful red hair when she was little."
"And a temperament to go with it," Pa chuckled. "Remember the day I took Clark and Lana to the playground when they were about four years old? There was an older boy picking on little Suzy Prentiss. Lana just tore into him -- butted her head into his stomach and knocked him over. By the time he got his wind back, Lana and Suzy were long gone."
"Well, she's had a crush on Clark for years. I just hope he wakes up and realizes what a prize she is before someone else walks off with her.”
Sighing, she carried a stack of dishes to the sink. “But then, most people never realize what they've got until it's gone."
A faded sign by the side of the road proclaimed "GOPHER GULCH."
The school bus turned off the road and rattled across an unpaved parking area, coming to a stop beside a row of weather-beaten picnic tables about twenty feet from the edge of a low bluff. Mr. Frick had driven ahead ; he climbed out of his station wagon and waited as the eighth graders filed out of the school bus.
"All right, students, gather round," he called out. He waited for the youngsters to quiet down and form a semicircle around him.
"A lot of people think that Kansas is a flat, boring place where nothing ever happened," he began.
"They got that right," muttered Doug Wilson. A few of the other students snickered.
Mr. Frick ignored the remark. "But that isn't true," he continued. "Millions of years ago, the spot where we're standing right now lay at the bottom of a vast inland sea. Then, millions of years later, the sea dried up, leaving behind a wide savannah where dinosaurs roamed. And then, long after the dinosaurs had all died off, glaciers a mile thick covered this spot, carrying rocks from thousands of miles away -- rocks that stayed behind when the glaciers melted. And we can read about these things -- not in the pages of a book, but in the rocks and landforms around us."
He swept his arm toward the bluff behind him. "Gopher Gulch isn't a gulch, strictly speaking," he said. "It's the bed of an ancient lake that dried up thousands of years ago. And the walls of this lakebed tell the geological history of this area. See the different layers of rock? Who remembers what scientists call those layers? Gretchen?"
"Strata," said Gretchen Becker.
"That's right, Gretchen. Those strata were laid down at different times in this region's past -- older strata at the bottom, younger strata on top. Now ... you all have a sheet of paper that tells you what kinds of rocks you can find here and how to identify them. I want you to buddy up and find as many of those rocks as you can. You also have a sheet of adhesive labels. Remember to label each rock with your name and the kind of rock it is. Think of it as a scavenger hunt."
"How much time do we have?" asked Jeff Cassidy.
Mr. Frick glanced at his watch. "It's 9:40 now. Let's say two hours. Bring your rocks back here and set them on the picnic tables. Then we'll have lunch, and after lunch we'll take a look at what you've found. Okay?" The students nodded.
"One last thing," said Mr. Frick. "It's a hot day -- so wear your hats, stay in the shade as much as possible, and don't over-exert yourselves. Do you all have canteens? Good. Use them. I don't want anyone getting dehydrated. I'll be right here if anybody needs me. Any questions? Okay, then -- buddy up and happy hunting!"
TWO HOURS LATER ...
Mr. Frick was handing out bag lunches from a cooler on the back seat of his station wagon. "Hello, girls," he said, handing a bag to Lana and another to her buddy Suzy Prentiss. "How did your rock-hunting go?"
"Pretty well," said Lana. "I think we found everything on the list. And I found a funny rock I can't identify. Maybe you can tell me what it is."
"Well, I'll take a look at it right after lunch," said Mr. Frick. He took a bag out of the cooler and handed it to Doug Wilson. "Hello, Doug ... "
Lana looked around. Clark Kent, Pete Ross, and a couple of other boys were sitting at one of the picnic tables. They probably wouldn't want a couple of girls joining them. Suzy had taken a seat at another table with Lizzy Snyder and Gretchen Becker. Lana was just about to join them when she noticed a boy sitting by himself in the shade of a tree, holding an open book in one hand and a ham sandwich in the other.
He was a slender young man with wavy brown hair, a long thin nose, and a serious expression in his blue eyes. Lana recalled that his name was Lex. He was new to the school ; despite the lateness of the year, he had enrolled just a couple of weeks ago. I guess he hasn't made any friends yet, Lana thought sympathetically. She watched as he turned a page in his book, absent-mindedly chewing his sandwich.
"Coming, Lana?" Suzy called.
Lana turned and waved at her friend. "You go ahead. I'll catch up with you later."
She walked over to where Lex was sitting, still absorbed in his book. "Hi," she said, smiling. "Can I join you?"
Lex looked up, blinking in surprise. He smiled shyly. "Uh -- sure!" he said, putting down his book and gesturing to a spot beside him.
Lana sat down and reached inside her lunch bag. "I'm Lana Lang," she said, taking out her sandwich and a carton of milk.
"Hi, Lana. It's nice to meet you. I'm Lex Luthor."
Lana grinned. "That's funny -- we have the same initials."
"Yeah -- we do." Lex seemed happy to have someone to talk to. I guess he's just shy, thought Lana. She nodded at the book Lex had set down. "What are you reading?"
"Microbe Hunters, by Paul de Kruif. It's all about people like Louis Pasteur and Walter Reed. I want to be a medical researcher some day, and find cures for diseases -- like Dr. Salk."
"Sounds good," said Lana. "I love to read. So does my dad. He still reads to me every night before I go to bed. Right now he's reading The Hound of the Baskervilles."
Lex's eyes lit up. "I love Sherlock Holmes!"
"Me too. And before that, he read me The Scarlet Pimpernel."
"I've never read that."
"Oh, it's great! It's about a man who risks his life to save people from the guillotine during the French Revolution. He's an English nobleman named Sir Percy Blakeney, and he pretends to be stupid and lazy so that nobody will suspect that he's actually the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"Huh. I'll have to read it sometime."
"You should. It's so exciting and romantic. And the author wrote a lot of other books about the Scarlet Pimpernel. I want to read them this summer." Lana suddenly realized that in her enthusiasm, she hadn't even unwrapped her sandwich. "So how come you're interested in medicine?" she asked, removing the wax paper. "Is your dad a doctor or something?"
Lex's face clouded over. "No. He was a chemist at the DuPont laboratory in Crawfordsville. He died in an automobile accident last year."
Lana winced. She placed her hand on Lex's arm. "I'm sorry ... "
"It's all right. You didn't know. My mom's a nurse at Crawfordsville Hospital. We moved to Smallville to be close to my Uncle Max. He owns the John Deere dealership out on Steuben Road. And he does crop-dusting with his airplane. He says he'll give me flying lessons when I'm a little older."
"Yeah. So what does your dad do?"
"He's a professor of archaeology at the state university. He's an expert on the Osage and the other Indian tribes that lived around here. He spends his summers digging up the fields around Smallville. Sometimes I help."
"That sounds interesting."
"Well, field work can be pretty monotonous. Even my dad admits that. But it is kind of neat to find pottery and arrowheads and things and try to imagine how people lived back then."
Lana swallowed the last bite of her sandwich and took an apple out of her bag. "So did you find all the rocks on the list?"
Lex nodded. "Yeah. And I even -- here, let me show you." He dug into his knapsack and pulled out a whitish rock. He handed it to Lana. "This looks like an ordinary piece of limestone," he said. "But if you look closely, you can see the outlines of fossil shellfish."
Lana squinted at the rock. "I don't see anything."
"Hold it sideways. The shadows will make them stand out."
"Oh, yeah! Wow! That's really interesting." Lana handed the rock back to Lex and reached into her own knapsack. "I found something unusual myself," she said. "What do you suppose this is?"
Lex leaned forward and peered closely at the rock cupped in Lana's hands. It was about the size of an egg and appeared to be a cluster of translucent crystals, purple in color.
"That is unusual," he said. "It looks like amethyst, but the crystals have an unusual shape. May I?" Lana placed the rock in Lex's hands. "Hmm ... it's heavier than I would have guessed."
He handed the rock back to Lana just as Mr. Frick called out, "All right, students, gather round! Let's see what you've found!"
Lex stood up and slung his backpack over his shoulder ; then he held out his hand to help Lana up. Lana shoved the rock into her pocket and took Lex's hand.
"Well," she said, brushing some dirt from the seat of her blue jeans, "maybe Mr. Frick can tell us what it is."
Lana and Lex strolled over to the picnic tables. Students had already begun laying out the rocks they'd found. Lana took the purple rock out of her pocket and gazed at it curiously. I wonder if it's valuable, she thought.
She heard Clark's voice behind her. He and Pete Ross were engaged in an animated conversation about baseball. Lana turned around, smiling brightly. "Hi, Clark!" she chirped, holding out the purple rock. "Look what I found."
Clark glanced down at the rock in Lana's hands. "That's swell, Lana," he said, politely but without much interest ; then he turned back to Pete.
Somewhat crestfallen, Lana put the rock into her knapsack and smiled apologetically at Lex.
"That's Clark Kent," she said. "His dad owns a farm next to our property. He and I grew up together. We've known each other practically our whole lives."
Lex nodded vaguely. "Is he your boy-friend?" he asked, glancing down.
Lana could feel her face reddening. She was glad Lex wasn't looking at her. "Oh, no," she said. She tried to sound nonchalant. "He's just -- you know ... a really old friend."
"Clark!" It was Pete's voice, sharp with alarm. "Clark, are you okay?"
Lana spun round. Clark was swaying unsteadily as Pete tried to hold him upright with a hand on each shoulder. His face was pale, his eyes were glassy, and his head hung limply to one side. A murmur of curiosity and alarm spread through the crowd of students.
"What happened?" Lana asked, her heart pounding.
"I don't know," said Pete. "We were just standing here talking, and all of a sudden he -- he turned white and started to pass out."
Lex had stepped forward to support Clark from behind. Together, Pete and Lex lowered Clark to the ground and laid him on his back. "Somebody get Mr. Frick," said Lex. He pulled a bandana from his pocket and soaked it with water from his canteen ; then he laid the wet bandana across Clark's forehead.
"Lana, give me your canteen," he said. Lana's eyes, wide and tearful, never left Clark for a second as she fumbled in her knapsack and pulled out her canteen. Lex took it from her outstretched hand and unscrewed the top. He began splashing water on Clark's chest and arms as Mr. Frick came forward.
"Step back, people," he said, kneeling by Clark. "What happened?"
Lex spoke. "It looks like heat exhaustion, sir."
Mr. Frick checked Clark's pulse, then his breathing. "I think you're right, Lex. You did the right thing, trying to cool him down."
He stood up. "All right, people, listen up!" he shouted. The students fell silent and looked at Mr. Frick with anxious faces. "Clark has what we call heat exhaustion," he explained. "Basically, that means he got too much sun. He's going to be all right, but I've got to drive him to the hospital in Crawfordsville. I'll need somebody to ride along, to keep applying cool compresses." Lana started to raise her hand, but Pete had already stepped forward. "Okay, Pete. Help me get him in the back seat of my car. The rest of you, collect your rocks and get on the bus. And remember -- Clark's going to be okay."
Mr. Frick patted Lex on the shoulder. "Good work, Lex."
The other students began talking among themselves in low, worried tones as Pete and Mr. Frick carried Clark to the station wagon and laid him on the back seat. They gathered up their rocks from the picnic tables and started filing into the school bus.
Lana stood staring down at the spot where Clark had lain.
"Lana?" It was Lex.
Lana shook her head and smiled weakly. "Wow," she said. "That was great -- what you did."
Lex shrugged. "Just a little first aid I learned in the Boy Scouts."
"Well, you're going to be a great doctor -- I can tell."
Lex grinned. "Thanks." He peered at her, frowning. "Say, are you okay?"
"Uh ... yeah." Actually, she did feel kind of funny. A strange tingling sensation seemed to be spreading through her body, and she felt ... light -- almost as if she were standing shoulder-deep in water. Gosh, I hope I'm not coming down with that heat exhaustion, too, she thought. But she shrugged it off. She didn't feel faint, or sick.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she repeated. "I guess I'm just worried about Clark. It was kind of a shock to see him pass out like that. I don't think he's ever been sick a day in his life."
"Well, if he's that healthy, he'll be fine as soon as the doctors get some fluids in him. Say, we'd better get on the bus."
"Looks like Lana's got a boy-friend."
Lana blinked. That was Suzy's voice, and it seemed to be quite close to her ear. But that was impossible. Lex was the only other person standing within thirty feet of her.
Five or six students were still waiting in line by the open door of the school bus. Lana saw that Suzy was one of them. Her head was close to Lizzy Snyder's, and they seemed to be laughing at some private joke.
Lana shook her head. That was weird, she thought. I hope I'm not hallucinating. She sighed. She just wanted to get home.
Clark tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids refused to move.
His body felt as if it had been drained of energy. He was aware that he was lying on his back, and that some unfamiliar force was holding him there, pulling him downward, gently but irresistibly. He was tempted to surrender to his weariness, to relinquish consciousness, to sink back into oblivion ... but he fought it.
Where was he? He heard the voices of men and women, speaking in low, serious tones -- "Bed two is throwing more PVC 's" ... "Give him another sub-lingual nitro" ... "BP is 130" ...
Panic rose within him, dispelling the mist of fatigue, and with an effort he opened his eyes. A white expanse of ceiling met his gaze. He turned his head. He was lying on a narrow bed with stainless-steel railings, surrounded by white curtains. He tried to use his x-ray vision to look through the curtains, to see where he was -- but nothing happened.
Then he noticed something that banished every other thought from his mind. A bottle half-full of a clear liquid was hanging upside-down from a metal contraption by his bedside. A long thin plastic tube was attached to the bottle, terminating in a metal needle -- a needle that had been inserted into his right arm and held down with a few strips of tape ...
The wave of panic mounted and surged. Clark could feel his heart pounding in his chest. My super-powers! he thought. What's happened to my super-powers? His x-ray vision was gone ... his invulnerability was gone ... and this unfamiliar force pulling down on his limbs -- was that gravity? He squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to rise off the bed -- but nothing happened. Opening his eyes, he grabbed the railing of his bed with his left hand and squeezed with all his strength -- but instead of crumpling like tin-foil, the stainless-steel bar remained firm and unyielding in his grip.
Desperately, Clark pushed himself into a sitting position. He had to get out of this bed ... find out where he was and what had happened to his super-powers ...
"Now calm down."
A pretty brunette in a nurse's uniform was standing by his bed. She placed her hands on Clark's shoulders and gently pushed him back down. Dumbfounded, Clark stared up at her. She was only an inch or two above five feet, and couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds; yet she was holding him down as if he were a baby -- a helpless baby ...
The nurse smiled reassuringly.
"There's nothing to be worried about, Clark. You just got a little too much sun today, that's all. You're in Crawfordsville Hospital, and we'll have you as good as new in no time."
"The needle -- the needle -- " Clark stammered.
"You got dehydrated, Clark. Your body needs fluids, and that's what the needle is for. Now why don't you just lie back and rest? Your parents will be here soon."
Clark felt a strange and unpleasant sensation in his stomach. A gagging noise rose in his throat as he sat bolt upright. The nurse grabbed a stainless-steel pan from the bedside table and held it in front of him. Clark leaned over the pan and vomited. He sat, gasping and coughing, as the nurse raised the back of the bed.
"Feeling better now?"
Clark looked at her blankly. He'd never felt so wretched, or so frightened, in his life ...
"I -- I guess so," he said weakly, lying back on the bed. The nurse wiped his face with a damp cloth, then poured some ice water into a paper cup and handed it to him. Gratefully, Clark took a sip. He closed his eyes and sank into a merciful oblivion.
Clark opened his eyes. The pretty nurse was standing by his bed, inspecting the fluid in the bottle.
"Oh, good, you're awake," she said. "Your parents are here, and I'll go find Dr. Scott."
Moments later, Ma and Pa Kent were standing at his bedside, staring in disbelief at the needle in their son's arm.
"Clark, what happened?" asked Pa.
"I don't know, Pa. The last thing I remember, I was talking with Pete. The next thing I know, I'm lying in this bed." He lowered his voice. "And it's not just -- that," he said, nodding at the needle. "All my powers are gone!"
"Oh, Clark, that's terrible!" exclaimed Ma.
"And you have no idea how idea how it happened?" asked Pa.
"No! I -- "
"Mr. and Mrs. Kent?"
A thin, bespectacled man in a white jacket was standing at the foot of Clark's bed, along with the nurse. He held out his hand. "I'm Dr. Scott."
Pa Kent shook the doctor's hand. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Jonathan Kent, and this is my wife Martha. What happened to our boy?"
"Clark's teacher brought him in a couple of hours ago. It looks as if he came down with heat exhaustion during a field trip today. Has anything like this ever happened to him before?"
"No, never," said Ma Kent. "He's always been a strong healthy boy."
"Well, his vital signs are certainly good. But his teacher says that his canteen was still full. Apparently he hadn't been drinking water all morning. That can lead to serious problems on a hot day."
"Will he be all right?"
"He should be fine. But just to be on the safe side, I'd like to keep him here overnight and run a few additional tests -- "
"Er -- is that really necessary, doctor?" Pa Kent asked hastily. "Like my wife said, Clark has always been a strong healthy boy. If he's not feeling better in the morning, we can take him to our family doctor."
Dr. Scott pursed his lips. He knew how frugal the local farmers were, how reluctant they were to spend a penny on anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. Still, the boy's signs were quite good ...
"All right, Mr. Kent," he said. "As soon as the bottle has run, Nurse Johnson can check your son's orthostatic vital signs. If everything looks okay at that point, I guess you can take him home."
"Thank you, doctor," said Pa.
"I'll be back in a minute with a form for you to sign," said Dr. Scott. He turned and strode off, followed by the nurse.
"Don't worry, Clark," said Ma, laying a hand on her son's arm. "Whatever happened to you, maybe it's just temporary."
"But what if it isn't? What if -- "
"Then we'll deal with it," said Pa, quietly but firmly. "Let's not talk about it now. Somebody might hear. Let's just get you out of here before the doctor has a chance to find out that you're not from around these parts."
Dr. Scott stuck his head through the curtain. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent? If you'd come with me, I have some paper work to go over with you." He looked at Clark. "Well, Clark, I hope you've learned a lesson today. Next time you're out in the hot sun, drink plenty of water. You may be a strong healthy young man, but after all ... you're only human."
Clark nodded numbly. Only human ...
The school bus came to a stop by the Langs' mailbox. Lana stepped off, her knapsack slung over her shoulder, and gazed up the long dirt driveway toward the two-story farmhouse with the wide front porch. A light breeze carried the smell of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies. Wow, thought Lana. Mom must be making a batch for a church bake sale if I can smell them all the way out here.
Lana glanced at the mailbox. It was empty. Her mother or father must have brought in the mail already. Lana had taken half a dozen steps toward the house when she stopped suddenly.
Wait a minute, she thought. How could I tell the mailbox was empty? I didn't open it.
She walked back and pulled down the hinged front of the mailbox. Sure enough, there was nothing inside. Lana shook her head. That was strange. She remembered how she thought she had heard Suzy's voice earlier that afternoon.
Lana felt uneasy. Was she having hallucinations? Had she gotten too much sun that day, like poor Clark? She'd better tell her parents, she decided. Her mom was such a worry-wart -- she'd probably want to take her to Dr. Adams right away. But her dad always looked at things calmly. Maybe she just needed a good night's rest.
It was funny, though -- she didn't feel tired at all. If anything, she felt refreshed and full of energy. But she still felt ... light. She couldn't think of any other word to describe it. She remembered how Mr. Frick had once explained that because of the moon's smaller mass, people would weigh less there. She imagined that this was what that must feel like. And there was still that funny tingly feeling all over her body.
As she approached the house, Lana saw that the family's Studebaker was parked in the driveway, not far from the porch steps. A jack was holding up its front end, and her father's legs were protruding from underneath. A grunt, and a sound of scraping metal, told her that he was busy with some sort of repair job.
Professor Lang's hearty voice boomed from underneath the car. "Hiya, Pumpkin! How was the field trip?"
"It was awful. Clark got heat exhaustion. He passed out and Mr. Frick had to drive him to the hospital."
"Your mother and I heard." Professor Lang wriggled out from beneath the car. He looked up at his daughter and spoke reassuringly. "That must have been pretty upsetting. But don't worry. Clark's a healthy boy. I'm sure he's feeling better already."
"I hope so. What's wrong with the car?"
"Just changing the oil filter -- or trying to. The darn thing's screwed on so tight I may need to get Charles Atlas to remove it." Professor Lang disappeared back under the car as Lana turned toward the house.
Mrs. Lang was coming down the porch steps. "We heard about Clark," she said. "What a terrible thing. I've been praying for him all afternoon. His parents are on their way to Crawfordsville right now." She peered closely at her daughter. "Are you feeling all right, honey?" she asked.
"Yeah ... well, actually, I do feel kind of funny. Not sick or anything," she added, seeing the look of alarm in her mother's eyes. "Just kind of weird and ... tingly."
"Oh, dear." Mrs. Lang put her hand on Lana's forehead. "You don't seem to have a temperature. But you'd best go inside and lie down for a bit."
"All ri -- "
Lana saw something out of the corner of her eye. Instantly, she spun round to face the driveway.
Of all the strange things that had happened to her that day, this was by far the strangest. It was as if everything around her had suddenly stopped moving -- or rather, were moving very, very slowly, like a movie being played in slow motion. She saw that the jack had slid out from beneath the car. It was leaning away -- ever so slightly -- and the front end of the car hung poised several feet above the ground, descending -- ever so slowly -- toward her father, who was still lying underneath it ...
She was running toward the car, her mind filled with one thought -- to reach it before it fell on her father.
The jack was leaning at a forty-five degree angle as Lana's hands reached out toward the front fender. Gripping the fender from underneath, she stepped forward and tensed her shoulders, straining her arms upward, willing herself to keep the car from falling ...
Mrs. Lang cried out in alarm. Lana had ... disappeared. One moment, Mrs. Lang had been feeling Lana's forehead ; the next moment, Lana was gone, vanished, leaving nothing behind but the straw hat which was lying on the ground by Mrs. Lang's feet. Automatically, she was stooping to pick it up when she heard her daughter's voice.
"Daddy, are you okay?"
Mrs. Lang turned and saw her little girl holding up the front end of the family's car as if it weighed nothing at all.
Professor Lang had scrambled out from underneath the car. He stood up hastily, brushing dirt from his trousers but never taking his eyes off his daughter.
"Lana! What on earth -- ?"
Lana blinked. The world was moving at its normal speed. What just happened? She had seen the car about to fall on her father, she had run forward, she ...
She looked down. She was holding up the front of the Studebaker in her bare hands as if it were ... well, something really, really light. Experimentally, she raised and lowered her hands, watching the car rise and fall, rise and fall ...
Mrs. Lang was standing beside her husband, clutching Lana's straw hat tightly in her hands. "Lana!" she gasped. "How -- how --?"
"I don't know!" wailed Lana. The sheer impossibility of the situation was sinking in. "It's just -- the car feels so light!"
"I think -- I think I can explain it, dear," said Professor Lang. "I've read about things like this. In sudden emergencies, the body releases a chemical called adrenaline. It gives people the -- the strength to do ... well, things like that!" Lana, only half-listening, was still raising the car up and down, up and down. A grin of sheer delight was slowly spreading across her face. This was so neat!
"Er -- Lana," said Professor Lang. "Maybe you'd better set the car down now, Pumpkin -- before the adrenaline wears off."
"Just a minute, Daddy." A sudden realization was dawning in Lana's mind. That funny tingly feeling -- that was me getting strong! And I don't think it's about to wear off ...
She was holding the car waist-high with both hands. Carefully, she brought her hands closer together until they were touching under the midpoint of the fender ; carefully, she removed her right hand. She found that it was just as easy to support the car with one hand as with two. She raised her left hand until it was level with her shoulder, then with the top of her head, lifting the front of the car higher and higher off the ground. She raised her left arm until it was extended straight over her head. The Studebaker's chassis settled back on the rear axle with a soft groan.
Mrs. Lang gasped. Professor Lang cleared his throat. "Lana?"
Holding the front end of the car overhead, Lana stepped underneath it and stretched out her right arm. Her fingers closed around the casing of the oil filter.
"What were you saying, Daddy?" she asked. "That you'd need to get Charles Atlas to loosen this oil filter?"
Carefully, trying not to crumple the casing, she gripped it firmly and gave it a gentle counter-clockwise twist. There was a harsh grating sound as rusty threads scraped against rusty grooves, and a moment later the filter was loose. Lana gave it a few more turns and handed it to her father.
"Maybe I should change my name -- to Charlotte Atlas!" Grinning, she lowered the car carefully to the ground as her father stared, dumbstruck, at the metal cylinder in his hand.
"It's -- it's a miracle!" exclaimed Mrs. Lang. "God gave Lana the strength to lift that car and save your life, Henry -- just as He gave Joseph the strength to roll the stone from the well at Haran! He -- "
She broke off, staring at her daughter. "Lana!" she gasped. "Your hair!"
"What about it?" Lana's hair, no longer confined by the straw hat, was loose about her shoulders. Lana took a strand between her thumb and forefinger and held it in front of her eyes. "Omigosh! It's -- "
"Why, your hair hasn't been that red since you were five years old!" exclaimed Mrs. Lang.
Professor Lang chuckled. "You're a regular pumpkin-head again!"
Lana was hardly listening. She held out her right arm and bent it slowly at the elbow. She squeezed as hard as she could, running her left hand along the bump of her bicep. Her arm felt firmer and tauter than she remembered, but her muscle seemed no larger than before. Yet somehow she had the strength to lift an automobile with one hand. Just how strong am I? she wondered. She looked around for something heavier to test her new-found strength.
Too bad we don't own a pick-up -- or a tractor, she thought. But the car had seemed to weigh nothing at all, and she was certain that no vehicle shy of a --well, a locomotive, at least -- would offer her any challenge. Her eyes fell on the old elm tree that stood fifty feet from the house, on the side facing away from the road. It had been dead for several years, and its bare branches stood out against the late afternoon sky, seventy feet above the ground.
Without a word, Lana strode over to the tree. Stooping slightly, she wrapped her arms around the trunk and prepared to get a grip with her hands.
"Lana!" her father called. "What are you doing?"
Lana turned her head. "Just checking on something, Daddy," she said. "You keep saying you're going to cut this tree down anyway, right?"
"Well, yes, but ... " Professor Lang didn't finish the sentence. He watched -- intent, hardly blinking -- as Lana turned her attention back to the tree.
"Henry," whispered Mrs. Lang. "You don't think our little girl is strong enough to pull that tree out of the ground, do you?"
"Let's find out," her husband murmured.
Lana gave the trunk a squeeze. There was a splintering sound as the rough bark and the wood underneath yielded to the pressure of her embrace. Glancing down, Lana saw that her fingers had penetrated the trunk as if it were soft clay. Taking a deep breath, tensing her muscles, she began to straighten up, pulling upwards with her arms ...
There was a soft rumble underfoot as the tree slid upward, smooth as a piston, in Lana's grip. The turf around the base of the tree began to split and heave ; roots burst through the surface of the lawn, caked with dark soil. Squaring her shoulders, Lana continued to pull upward ...
A thick root popped out of the ground directly under Lana's right foot. She staggered backward, still clutching the trunk, tearing the tree out of the ground like a loose tooth. She stumbled about, desperately trying to regain her balance as the tree swayed precariously in her embrace ...
Awkwardly, she swung the tree into an upright position and set it down on the lawn. She stepped back, stumbled, fell ... Her father was shouting something at her. She looked up. The tree was tottering ; now it was leaning toward the house, beginning to fall. In another moment, it would crash through the roof ...
Lana sprang to her feet. An instant later, she stood in the path of the falling tree. Raising her arms, she placed the palms of her hands against the rough grey bark and pushed -- pushed with all her strength ...
Spinning like a baton, the tree shot upward. It soared a hundred feet into the air, paused for a fraction of a second, then descended majestically, landing with an earth-shaking thump and a snapping of dry branches, just a few yards from the barbed-wire fence that separated the Langs' property from the Kents' back pasture.
There was a long moment of silence. Uh-oh, thought Lana. She looked at her parents. They were staring at the spot where the tree had landed. Probably they were too surprised to be angry -- yet. Still, Lana felt that a little pre-emptive contrition was called for. "Oops!" she said, ducking her head and grinning apologetically. "I'm sorry!"
Professor Lang turned round slowly, scanning the flat landscape in every direction. Pastures and cornfields lay quiet and deserted in the hot late-afternoon sun. He released a pent-up lungful of air. "Well," he murmured. "I hope nobody saw that."
Then he turned to his daughter. "Pumpkin," he said, "let's -- let's take it easy for now, okay?"
"Yes, Daddy," Lana replied meekly. Her mother had hurried forward and laid her hands on Lana's shoulders. "Lana," she said. "Lana, honey, you've got to be careful with this -- this gift of yours. You -- "
She broke off, staring. Mrs. Lang was half a head taller than her daughter, but now Lana's eyes were level with her own. "Lana!" she gasped. "You're taller!"
Professor Lang cleared his throat. "No, dear," he said. His voice was dry, matter-of-fact, as if nothing could surprise him at this point. He pointed toward Lana's feet. "She's floating!"
Lana looked down. She wiggled her feet. Sure enough, she was floating several inches above the ground. She closed her eyes and concentrated, willing herself to rise into the air. Was it working? She opened her eyes. Her feet seemed to be about level with her father's head ; she could look directly down on his bald spot.
"Whee!" Effortlessly, Lana rose higher and higher until she could look down on the roof of the house. "Look, Daddy! Look, Mom! I can fly!"
Spreading her arms, she tipped forward, then soared into the air -- just like Peter Pan in the movie. She banked to the left, rounding the corner of the house, then glided low over the roof of the porch. She flew all the way round the house, then rolled over on her back and flew round the house again, kicking her legs joyfully. She made a loop around the chimney and lowered herself gracefully to the ground.
"Did you see? Did you see?" Lana's eyes were shining. This was the best yet! She ran over to her parents. "Can I go over to Suzy's? Please? I want to show her! I'll be back in time for dinner! Oh, and Clark!" She giggled, imagining the look on Clark's face when he saw her lifting his father's tractor overhead. "Wait'll he sees how strong I am! He'll flip! I bet -- oh."
Lana's face fell. In her excitement, she had forgotten about Clark ...
"No, Lana," said her mother firmly. "I think we need some time to -- to think about all this."
Lana turned to her father. "Please, Daddy?" She gave him her best puppy-dog look.
Professor Lang shook his head. "Sorry, Pumpkin," he said gently. "Your mother's right. We need to think about this before you go showing anyone else. Okay?" He stooped and looked into his daughter's eyes. "Okay?"
Lana sighed. "Okay, Daddy."
"That's my girl. Now go wash up for dinner. Pot roast, mashed potatoes, carrots -- and chocolate-chip cookies for dessert. And after dinner ... "
"That's right. Oh, just one thing before you wash up." He pointed toward the fallen elm tree. "Do you think you could carry that tree back here -- carefully! -- and set it down in back? I wouldn't want Jonathan to see it and start asking questions."