Chapter Fifty-Nine – An End To The Madness

Chloe Sullivan woke up screaming.

It had only been a moment or so earlier that a familiar-looking monster had been thrusting a spike into her (Lex's) chest and now here she was, lying in what appeared to be a hospital bed.

Confused, her vision blurred, she instinctively moved her hand to her (Lex's) chest, checking for damage, and it was then she realized that she was now back in her own body. The transference stone's power must have finally subsided, returning her and Lex to their own bodies and leaving her, so it seemed, with a head full of amnesia.

All sorts of questions suddenly filled her mind: How long had she been here? Where had the others gone? Had Lex finally got his wish and gotten them to abandon her here?

Suddenly all of those questions seemed irrelevant as a man in a white coat entered the room. Even with her blurred vision, Chloe recognized him.

"Dad?" she exclaimed, as her brain tried frantically to piece together the fragments of this new puzzle.

"No, Chloe," said the man wearily. "I'm Dr. Gabriel. I heard you screaming from down the hall."

Chloe looked at him in confusion and then she realized what was happening. This was yet another parallel world.

"Sorry about the noise… it was a… a nightmare," she said, "and sorry about calling you Dad… I was in a different world there for a moment."

The doctor looked at Chloe with surprise registering on his face. "Chloe, where are you?"

"Looks like a hospital," she replied.

"Do you know why you're here?" he asked calmly.

"Well, I'm at somewhere of a loss there, Doc."

"You're delusional, Chloe," he said matter-of-factly. "You've been trapped in a fantasy world for the last four years."

"A fantasy world?" said Chloe incredulously.

"Well, mainly a town," said the doctor. "A place called Smallville."

"I realize the problem here," said Chloe. "It's me and my big mouth. I probably told you about my friends Clark Kent and Lana Lang - you'd have thought I'd have learnt my lesson after the last time."

"You didn't tell me about them, Chloe," explained the doctor. "I read all about it."

"Read all about it?"

At which point the doctor went to her bedside table and opened a drawer, pulling out a notebook. Chloe recognized it instantly -the notes for her story.

"I can explain this," she said, with a smile, as she started to open the notebook to the first page. "Although my vision's still blurry, so it just looks like scrawl to me."

"Maybe you should wear your glasses," the doctor suggested, picking up a pair of spectacles that were lying on the bedside table.

"But I don't wear glasses," explained Chloe patiently.

"You do in this world," said the doctor, pushing the glasses towards her.

"Okay, I'll humor you, Doc," she said, putting on the glasses. "Wow, they really work," she exclaimed in disbelief as everything suddenly became clear to her, even the scrawl in the notebook, although she was surprised to see that, although it appeared to be her handwriting, it was still scrawl. "Well, I wrote it a lot neater than this," she protested. "This is practically unreadable."

"A bit like these," said the doctor, taking further notebooks out of the drawer and passing them to Chloe.

She opened the first notebook she'd been handed and looked at the barely-legible words written at the top of the page - The Torch - followed by some headlines she'd remembered typing back in the Torch's office several years ago. She flicked through the rest of the notebooks - all of the issues of The Torch were scribbled down there in the same erratic handwriting.

Chloe shook her head. "This can't be happening. I must be dreaming. Wait… that monster who drove a spike into my chest… I remember where I've seen it now."

"Monster?" echoed the doctor warily.

"Yes, it was from a Buffy episode. It made her have the same type of delusions I'm having now. This world here is the fantasy one. Although that Buffy episode was left open-ended but that's hardly going to help my argument."

"And what if this is the real world? What if your mind was just looking for a way to get back here?"

"Weird theory, Doc," said Chloe, suddenly perky. "But I guess I've got nothing better to do until I get back and weird theories are my stock in trade so I guess we could get hypothetical for a bit. You figure my recent journeys through realities were all my mind's attempt to get back here?"

"Well, I couldn't help noticing that the last world you wrote about in your notes was The Matrix - a virtual reality that humans thought was real, and before that St. Elsewhere - a reality which was finally revealed to all be going on in the head of an autistic boy."

"I'm sure that's just a coincidence," said Chloe dismissively. "Finding reality was never my goal. My goal was to find Ultra Woman, and to prevent her destroying all of the Supermen. Well, actually it was to finish my story - but stopping Ultra Woman came a close second."

"Looks to me like your story's finished," said the doctor. "And I think I know who Ultra Woman is."

"It's Cat Grant," said Chloe. "I thought that was pretty obvious from my notes."

"No, Chloe, it's you. You, with your vast powers, have been tearing bits from each of the Supermen, in comics, TV and film, and merging them together to make a new one, a young one who lives in Smallville."

"No, your argument's fatally flawed, Doc. If I was in control of Smallville, Clark Kent would be paying me way more attention."

"Well, the version of you in Smallville is certainly idealized. She doesn't wear glasses - which I guess you must really hate since even your Clark Kent doesn't wear them - and she's editor of the school newspaper, when the most you've ever written is a couple of fanfics."

Chloe laughed. "Hey, while I'm quite enjoying this wacky concept of my life in Smallville being one huge fanfic, there's no way I can believe that I'm the Mary Sue."

"Let me leave you alone for a few minutes," said the doctor. "I've got to get some things. Hopefully, they'll convince you."

"Well, there's a strong possibility that I might have snapped out of this lucid dream by the time you get back," explained Chloe, "so I can't promise anything."

"Well try and keep it real until I get back," requested the doctor. "I'll be as quick as I can."

And with that, the doctor left, and Chloe Sullivan got up out of bed and started looking in the other drawers of the bedside table, hoping to pre-empt any other mind games her subconscious had in store for her. Opening the bottom drawer, she saw a pile of comic books - the same pile of comic books Mickey Smith had given her in Rose's reality. Feeling bored, she started looking through them, finally getting to the ones at the bottom - they were titled Identity Crisis, how apt.

"Ross brought those in a couple of days ago," said Dr. Gabriel, entering the room again. "He hoped they'd make you realize what was real and what was fantasy."

"Ross? You don't mean Pete Ross?" asked Chloe, looking up from the issue she was reading.

The doctor didn't answer, but instead placed a photograph in her hand.

"Anyone you recognize, Chloe?"

Cautiously she looked at the photograph.

"Pete Ross," she yelled, spotting her friend instantly.

"That's not Pete Ross," said the doctor. "He's your best friend, Ross, although you used to call him Pete on his visits - that was before you started ignoring him completely as you slipped further and further into your fantasy world. Recognize the girl next to him?"

Chloe stared at the girl with her glasses and mousy hair. It certainly wasn't Lana. And then she suddenly realized who it was. "It's me, isn't it?"

The doctor nodded. "And here she is again, although much younger."

Chloe smiled at the photograph as a memory came trickling back. She must have been about six then, standing in front of her father's collection of comics, the covers displayed on the wall. "Yeah, I remember that - my Dad's wall of weird…" she started and then stopped again instantly. These memories couldn't be real - they must just be hallucinations, like everything else that was going on around her.

"Do you remember your father's name?" the doctor asked.

Chloe bowed her head. She didn't want to say it, but it was the word that she couldn't close out any longer. "Lionel."

"That's right. Here you all are together."

He passed her a picture. She looked at it - there they were, all together: her, Lionel, Lillian and baby Julian. No wonder she'd ended up in Lex's body - all of his family were hers.

"No, it can't be," mumbled Chloe, looking at the picture in her hand. "That's not my mother. My mother's in a mental institution."

"Oh, yes I forgot," said the doctor, trying to remain calm. "The enlightened view of mental illness your world has. If it's not Belle Reve and its association of mental illness with villainy rather than debilitation, it's your mother with her hereditary incurable female-specific mental illness that doesn't even exist in the real world. Your mother's not in the mental institution - she's just your mind trying to give you a clue as to what's really going on."

"Okay," said Chloe, getting defensive, "so if my mind's making this all up, why is it doing this? What sparked it off?"

"Why did you drift into your safe comic book Universe? It was because of Lillian and Julian."

"What, Lillian killing Julian?" asked Chloe.

The doctor shook his head. "Lillian never killed Julian. That might be what your mind preferred to believe. It's certainly more believable than the truth."

"The truth?"

"Lillian was putting Julian to bed one night when a meteorite struck the house."

Chloe started laughing hysterically, unable to believe what she'd just heard, and then the memories came flooding back and the laughter turned to tears.

It was three months later and Lionel Sullivan had just left for work. Chloe, on the other hand, stayed behind, taking care of things. All of her dreams about her friends rescuing her had now vanished - and why would they rescue her - they weren't real. It had all been a hoax, a dream, an imaginary story.

She understood that now. She'd begun to see how everything fitted in - everything but the caves, but you can't have answers for everything. Her brain had created itself a Smallville, with a Clark Kent of her age. It had started populating it with super-freaks to keep her interest and, when she got bored of those, had started dragging in other comic book elements - Jor-El, The Flash, Krypto.

But that was a different world, and she wasn't supposed to think about it anymore, and so, before she paid another visit to the hospital, visiting the ones who weren't lucky enough to have left yet - Tina Greer with her multiple personality disorder, Walt Arnold and his pyromania, the list went on - she first had to put the past behind her.

And so she built a bonfire.

At the bottom of the bonfire she put all of her comic books - Dad would never approve, but it was something she had to do. Then, on top of those, she placed a fashion catalogue she'd found tucked at the bottom of her wardrobe. She looked at the cover, and the familiar-faced models - the guy sporting a plaid shirt and the girl wearing a pink dress - as the flames engulfed it.

Slowly, her heart full of regret, she stood there as her past was reduced to ashes and the final wisps of smoke disappeared into the sky.

"Up, up and away," she said, turning and leaving the bonfire behind.

Chloe Sullivan never looked back.