Disclaimer: This work of fiction is based on characters created by Jerry Siegler and Joe Shuster and owned by DC Comics and Warner Bros. This is purely for entertainment, and no profit is being made from it.
"How 'bout you, Mr. Kent?"
Ben Kent regarded the teacher that had addressed him. Mr. Sauf was a thin, silver-haired man with a neatly trimmed moustache and beard. His eyes seemed to beckon Ben to the front of the class. Each member of the large yet select Honors Biology I class had been given a hypothetical specimen with a given trait, or phenotype, and the genetic factor that caused that trait, or genotype. From the genotype, they were each to figure out the possible pedigrees of their specimen. It was simple enough for Ben, almost mathematically simple. Science was his best subject, though it was an odd thing to say about a kid who had as many honors classes as there were available on his schedule and managed to score in at least the mid-nineties in every single one of them.
"Uh...sure," Ben said, cringing inwardly at his own awkwardness as several snickers let loose behind him. He pulled out several half-size, hand-made posters from his book bag, stood up deliberately, and walked up the narrow space between two rows of desks and approached the chalkboard. It's okay, Ben, he thought to himself, Just picture the audience in their underwear. As soon as he had thought this, he scoffed to himself. What a cliché!
But then again, Benjamin Samuel Kent's whole life seemed to be one big cliché, and not one that put him in a very favorable role. He was a textbook image of the nerd. He was a straight-A freshman who was all too accustomed to being the skinny, bespectacled boy who just did not belong anywhere near the teen scene. He was a wallflower, content to stand at the back of any social event and either read a book or contemplate the meaning of life. Ben had thick blackish brownhair that could be hand-combed into a slightly unruly version of the Beatles' trademark mop-top in about five seconds. His glasses, though not excessively large or thick, were still sufficient to collaborate with his bangs in leaving his otherwise intense brown eyes in obscurity. In fact, Ben's handsomely carved nose and square jaw would've turned several female heads were it not for the distraction of the glasses.
The worst thing about his glasses was that their lenses were flat and clear. They served no corrective purpose, but a protective one. There was absolutely nothing amiss with Ben Kent's vision, except for a phantom disease called oculovulnerosis that, according to Dr. Farmer, the Kent family practitioner, left his eyes abnormally vulnerable to solar damage unless protected by some sort of barrier. Forever wondering if new treatments had arisen that could relieve his need of the accessory that sealed his niche as a nerd, he continually scoured the Internet for information on this mysterious ailment, but to no avail. It was as if Dr. Farmer was the only physician in the world who knew of oculovulnerosis.
He looked around the relatively small and crowded classroom of Metropolis High School as he walked up. The walls were built with large beige bricks and were decorated with posters, most of them encouraging the students to read in some way or other. As Ben turned to face the class, he watched his fellows with a discerning eye. Some were classmates that he knew could rival him academically. Others, especially those who slouched in their seats and carved obscenities into the surfaces of their desks, did not give Ben a very good opinion of the screening process for Honors classes.
However, once he reached the front of the class, a familiar confidence overtook him. His acute knowledge of virtually anything he talked about and the comfort it afforded him never failed to turn the somewhat awkward teen into a smooth talker, as long as the subject was at least of a vaguely academic nature.
"My specimen," he began, "was a human child who is heterozygous for brown hair. She has one dominant allele and one recessive. There are a couple of different possibilities as to the genotypes of her parents." He pulled up his first mini-poster. "If you look at this Punnett square..."
He stopped in mid-sentence and blinked, as if something invisible had startled him. As he had finished the word "square," a strange sensation arose in the back of his eyes. It was as if a muscle he never knew he had was focusing his eyes much like fingers would a pair of binoculars! But this sensation, strange as it was, was not what had startled him. Even more eerie was the fact that, at the same moment, it seemed that the top layer of everything in the room faded into transparency, retaining only a tint of their color! Outer clothing, the formica on the desks, posters, all seemed to take on a ghostly translucence. He could literally see his audience in their underwear! Not exactly enjoying the idea of knowing the boxers-to-briefs ratio of the class, he looked quickly elsewhere. His gaze fell on a rather attractive girl, and he felt himself blush as he admired her thighs for a split second. Turning his gaze frantically to the desk, he could see the pens, notepads, detention forms, and a multitude of other assorted office items in the closed drawers!
Ben blinked, rubbed his temples, and closed his eyes. He opened them. As quickly as this hallucination had come, it was gone.
Okay, that was weird and scary, Ben thought to himself. He shook his head violently. He decided to resume his presentation, though his concentration had now shifted to the phenomenon, or hallucination, or whatever it was that had just happened. "If you look at this Punnett square," he continued, "it demonstrates one possibility. One parent could've been homozygous dominant, the other homozygous recessive. This scenario would've guaranteed that every child born from this coupling would be heterozygous and would have brown hair."
He went through a few other possibilities, and just as he was beginning to lessen the mental attention he diverted to inwardly trying to figure out what had just happened to his eyes...
The phantom muscle moved again, this time a little further. Now, he could see the inner workings of the pens inside the teacher's closed desk drawer! Looking at the class, he realized to his shock that his vision had penetrated yet another layer. The class looked like the town meeting at a nudist colony, and he was seeing things he knew no 14-year-old boy should see! Blushing at his own brief self-indulgence in a nearby girl, he hurriedly tried to think of a way to bring his vision back to normal, and squinted as an experiment.
This experiment produced the opposite results! He gasped as the outer layer of muscle and connective tissue of the students he faced lay exposed to him, covered by unfortunately very transparent integument. There was no anatomy book that could've prepared him for such a sight! To his horror, the walls of the classroom were all but gone, and he could see into the next classroom, where Dr. Savorcy was looking right at him but not noticing him as he scrawled figures with chalk onto the opposite surface of a very translucent chalkboard!
He rubbed his temples again, and blinked. To his relief, his vision was suddenly restored to normalcy. But now, he was visibly disturbed. Puzzled murmurs began to spread throughout the class.
"Benjamin, are you alright?" Mr. Sauf asked, concern written on his face.
Ben wiped the sweat from his forehead. He blinked several times, and finally made an attempt to reassert himself. "I'm fine," he said, still wide-eyed.
"You sure? You don't need to go to the clinic?"
"No," Ben said. He doubted the school nurse would ever believe him, much less be able to do anything about what he himself still wasn't convinced was real.
Mr. Sauf looked at him skeptically, then shrugged. "Okay. Any more possibilities?"
"Ye-yeah. There is one more." Ben sighed and presented his last Punnett square. His body was in the classroom, as was his voice, and just enough of his mind to keep his voice going. But the remainder of his thoughts were on whatever was going on with his vision. It would be a long day for Ben Kent.
The last minute of his presentation seemed to drag on for hours. He needed to sit down. When he finally half-sat, half-collapsed into his seat, he caught the eye of a girl sitting two rows down from him. For the briefest instant, there was a flicker of concern in her eyes, but it disappeared all too quickly and she turned to murmur to a friend behind her.
Much of Ben's thoughts were immediately diverted towards her, despite his continued confusion over his strange visions. This was Francesca Esperanza Mánquez. Sometimes, Ben wanted to forget her. Others, he wanted to hold on to the memories he did have with her. And what memories they were.
He didn't remember exactly how he had met her, but he did remember the day care center where he and Francesca used to play together every day. They were two years old when they met. It had afterwards become habit for Francesca to approach little Benny the minute her parents released her, and she would soon have him engaged in some game or role-playing activity. Her favorite featured herself as a sleeping Snow White and Ben as Prince Charming. Sometimes, she would even enlist the smallest kids she could find as dwarves, but they had always come up far short of seven.
Unfortunately, that game had ended when Ben entered his girls-have-cooties phase. In fact, she couldn't even give him the occasional peck on the cheek without him saying "Ew!" until they were about eight or nine.
Long before that, however, the Kents and the Mánquezes had been forced to get to know each other by their children, and addresses and phone numbers had soon been exchanged. In a seemingly cosmic coincidence, they had discovered that they lived just a few blocks from each other!
Ben remembered countless visits to the Mánquez residence. He remembered Francesca's typical greeting, which was always either warm or excited. He remembered swinging at the piñata that was the traditional highlights of Francesca's birthday parties. He remembered being anxious to show off his costume to her every Halloween, as he did sharing his candy with her the day after.
Of course, Ben and Francesca had had their fights. The first one was when Ben had refused to play house one morning. At the age of four years, Francesca did not take no for an answer, not even from her parents, much less Ben. Fortunately, she'd mellowed as she got older. Their next memorable disagreement occurred when the duo was seven, and the most recent one during their friendship had taken place, interestingly enough, at Ben's tenth birthday party.
Then came middle school. Remembering the disappointment he had felt when he had realized he shared no classes with Francesca, Ben had since then labeled the beginning of sixth grade as the beginning of the end. At the time, however, he had thought that he would have plenty of time to catch up with her on weekends and during the summer.
Meanwhile, however, Francesca had befriended Jo, Grace, and Jim, and found herself becoming very active in cheerleading and other activities, most often with these three by her side. Ben remembered passing the foursome in the hall, debating over the best method of making Grace's "totally cute" would-be-boyfriend jealous, critiquing harshly how Jessica Fennison's new swimsuit fit her, and other such things that struck Ben as significantly out-of-character for Francesca.
During the following summer, Ben would see Francesca less and less often. Between her three new companions, it was becoming more and more of a challenge for her to find time for him. All too often, she would ask him, albeit apologetically, if he would postpone a movie or a card game so she could join Jo and Grace at the mall or check out Jim's new stereo. Seeing that she seemed happy doing such things, Ben had never refused her.
They'd continued to drift apart, and by the time Ben realized how far it had gone, the change in his former best friend was even more apparent. Yet, whenever they'd chanced to encounter each other in the halls of school or on the busy streets of urban Metropolis, she remained reasonably friendly towards him. But, to put it bluntly, it just wasn't the same.
Even that complacent friendliness had come to an end, and it had been a much more abrupt one than that of the closer bond that had been eroded more gradually. He had attended her thirteenth birthday party; the last one he would be invited to. There'd been no piñata. There'd been no rendition of the Spanish-language version of Happy Birthday, which had served to remind her of the heritage she had always enjoyed. There'd been just balloons, cake, and the latest in teen pop music playing on the CD player.
It had occurred to Ben that this wasn't the type of music that Francesca would ever really like. It was technically pop, but it seemed to resemble hard rock too much for what he knew were her true tastes. Still, she'd raved about the song, almost as if she were "protesting too much." As he watched her more closely, his intuition had told him with surprising certainty that that was exactly what she was doing. On some level, she had never changed. He had known instinctively that she was not as happy as everyone, perhaps even she herself, believed. As long as she was truly happy, he could stand to see her drift away from him, though he couldn't deny that he missed her. But the knowledge that she wasn't was what had made him confront her that night.
He now wished he hadn't, for what he had meant to be a serious but peaceful discussion turned into the biggest argument he had ever had with her. Who was he, she'd asked, to say what she really liked and didn't like? Who was he to tell her who she was? Her final words were still as clear in his mind as the day she'd said them, or rather shouted them. "Why don't you just stay out of my life?" she'd bellowed.
The room had fallen silent, which Ben had been sure was a physical manifestation of the remainder of their friendship crumbling into nothing. With those words, it was over. He had turned around quietly and left without a word. Later that night, a few tears had suddenly emerged from his eyes and stained his red cheeks.
Ben glanced at her now. She was growing into a beautiful young woman. She was slightly shorter than average, with straight blonde hair that adorned her neck and upper back. She had bangs that curved gently on her forehead and were sometimes swept to the sides, thin eyebrows that worked with her pretty brown eyes in making vivid expressions, a fine, slightly broad nose, and lips that could form effortlessly into a wide and lively smile. But in almost two years, seldom had he seen such a genuine smile.
Ben scowled subtly. She had just started wearing the type of excessive eye shadow that characterized Britney Spears and the like, and she seemed to go out of her way to stay just barely within the dress code. Her dark eye makeup made her look like she was on some sort of drugs, and her dark halter top and low-riding jeans didn't do justice to the caliber of girl he knew she really was. He wondered sardonically if she even knew that she was detracting from her own natural beauty in the very attempt to bolster it. It all seemed absurd to him. He resented Jo, Grace, and Jim for turning Francesca into what he now beheld, but the logical part of him simultaneously reminded him that it was not their fault that Francesca was so impressionable.
The bell sounded on the PA system, and the sounds of chatting and shuffling books quickly assumed full volume. Ben slipped his notebook into his book bag, slung it over his shoulder, and began to walk slowly towards the door.
"Good presentation today, Benjamin," Mr. Sauf said, not looking up from his grade book as Ben opened the door.
Ben nodded. "Thank you. See ya tomorrow."
He emerged into the busy halls of Metropolis High, and his thoughts returned to the strange visual incidents. He couldn't believe what he had seen in those brief flashes, but he had seen them nonetheless. The startling images were still fresh in his mind, and it became doubtful that he would ever completely forget them. Ben began to fret, seriously wondering if he was losing his sanity. But if he was, he also asked himself, why? He had experienced nothing that could be considered traumatic by any stretch of the imagination. He had no previous history of mental illness. All his life, Ben knew he had been completely sane and healthy. Why then was he seeing things, if only for a few moments at a time, no human eye should be able to see? Why were his eyes suddenly capable of penetrating solid, opaque surfaces and seeing what lies within or underneath?