Bequest : Chapter Six
Clark stood in numb silence against the wall. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut, listening with such intensity that a layer of sweat formed on his brow.
It has been ten minutes and ten seconds since he had heard his mother's heart beat. Since he heard Dr. Patterson's tear filled voice quietly proclaiming the time of death. But still Clark stood in perfect stillness, waiting to hear just one more beat.
His own heart seemed to thunder in his ears in conflict with the absolute stillness of his body.
So intent was he on his task, he didn't hear Lois speaking to him until she touched his arm.
As he opened his eyes, the accumulated tears fell to his cheeks, blurring his vision of the stark white hallway and Lois' concerned face. His chest was tight and he struggled to take a full breath. He would gladly endure another mountain of kryptonite then this moment.
"Clark…" Lois' fingers brushed a tear from his lashes, resting her cool palm against his burning cheek. "Dr. Patterson said we could go in…"
Lois studied Clark's face and cringed at the agony she saw there. He said nothing as she took his hand and crossed that hallway into Martha's room.
The room was somewhat tidy, the rumpled sheets on the bed and the absence of the vitals monitor were the only indications of the chaos that had filled the room only moments before. On the bed, Martha's form lay still, her hands had been folded over her midsection in a quiet repose.
Clark's hand tightened momentarily and then let go of hers.
His head tilted suddenly and Lois recognized the familiar distant look.
"I have to go." he said quietly.
Lois recaptured his hand. "Clark. You don't have to. " she exclaimed, cursing the timing of whatever event was calling for his attention at this dark time.
"I know." he whispered. His eyes traveled across the room and fixed on his mother's face. He stepped forward and for a moment, the barest hint of a smile briefly touched his lips as he brushed a kiss across his mother's forehead.
Lois opened her mouth to speak, but stopped at the look of quiet determination on his face. Clark's fingers slipped from hers, and he was gone.
"Clark Kent!" Martha exclaimed in a hushed whisper, tearing the large bag of pork rinds from her son's hand. "Just because you won't gain weight no matter what you eat, doesn't mean you have to eat that trash!"
Clark smiled indulgingly and followed as his mother gave him a stern look then turned her attention to the well stocked shelves of the small corner grocery on Main street. She grabbed a few healthier choices and Clark grimaced dramatically.
Martha batted him gently with a loaf of rye bread encased in cellophane and tossed it into the cart. "Don't give me any lip, young man! You may be grown but you could still find yourself over my knee!"
Clark laughed out loud and planted a noisy kiss on his mother's cheek and looked down into the cart he was pushing with disdain.
Martha in the past had loved to cook meals fit for a small army whenever he came to visit. Clark had enjoyed the greasy abundance of home cooked Midwestern meals. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd thanked God that his alien metabolism allowed him to eat an entire chocolate cake by himself and not gain a pound. He always ate what was set before him with pleasure, and Martha always enjoyed watching him enjoy his meal with a somewhat jealous glint in her eye.
Then one day, Ben had been watching CNN and somehow the two of them had ended up enamored with the idea of all organic food. Clark grinned inwardly, remembering his mother's expression when he'd landed on the back porch with a bag of Cheetos.
"How can you have grown up on a farm and eat powdered cheese??" Ben had asked him, his kindly face twisted in a dramatic scowl.
Clark and his taste buds hoped this was as short a phase as Martha and Ben's weekly water-aerobics class at the YMCA downtown that had lasted all of two weeks when Ben found out that the swim caps pulled out what little hair he did have left
Still food shortcomings aside, Ben was great for his mother. He made her laugh and didn't pout too badly when she beat him in Scrabble. Ben also watched over her in a way that made Clark feel like his mother was cared for while he was out watching the rest of the world.
Martha pulled a few bills out of her purse and Clark eased past her to bag the groceries. With a smile to the clerk, he gave his mother his arm and pushed the cart out to the truck.
"Tonight I am going to make Ben's favorite! Organic Spinach puffs!" Martha chatted along happily as Clark put the last back into the truck bed and tied it securely. "And don't think I didn't see that face! You're not the only one with x-ray vision!" she laughed.
Suddenly Clark grew still, listening to something his mother couldn't hear.
Clark came around the side of the truck and handed Martha the keys.
"Mom, I have to go. There is a tornado in South Dakota. I need to get there before it touches down."
"Mmhmm sure." she accepted his kiss on the cheek skeptically. "I'll save you a plate." She hopped into the truck and turned the ignition.
Clark was already out of sight but he laughed out loud when he heard her mutter; "That tornado better end up on the news, or that boy is getting two helpings!"
The cornfields of his hometown flashed by in a blur beneath Clark as he raced above the landscape. Behind him he heard the thunder of the sound barrier being broken as he pushed east.
The distress signal coming from below, jolted him out of his memories.
Clark's hearing expanded and he scanned the ground. He passed the border of Ohio into Fairview, West Virginia where a coal mine had suffered an explosion and a collapse, trapping morning crew beneath a mile of earth and rock.
As Clark approached the site, authorities hadn't yet arrived and the companies overseer was sitting near his post. He was covered in soot and coal debris. He was in such shock that he barely reacted when Clark landed next to him.
Clark scanned the ground beneath, his view was hazy due to the amount of led in the hillside. He knelt down and put his hand on the overseer's knee.
"What's your name?" The man didn't immediately respond. Clark snapped his fingers in front of the man's face.
"M...Mitch." The man said almost inaudibly.
"Ok, Mitch. I need you to help me a bit here. How many people are in the mine?"
"Seven…or eight? I don't know I can't remember, there was so much noise. So much dust, I don't know, I don't kn-"
"Okay Mitch," Clark laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "The authorities are a few miles away and should be here in a few minutes. I'm going to down and see what I can do."
Just then there was a loud rumbling as the loose contents of the mine began to fall and settle in more tightly. Clark turned around to see the entire entrance of the mine had collapsed.
In a flash Clark began to clear the debris, moving so quickly the loose rocks didn't have time to settle more precariously.
The air was black with coal dust and smoke. Behind the wall of rock, Clark could see the flashing of distant flames. Clark was a blur of motion as he sifted his way further and further into the mine.
He found the first man laying on his face near the entrance. Clark scanned quickly over his body, everything seemed to be intact, his unconsciousness seemingly from smoke inhalation. Clark cradled the unconscious man gently in his arms and made his way out to the surface.
A crowd was beginning to gather and the Ambulances came screaming to a stop just beyond the perimeter of the mine.
An EMT trotted over, a gurney in tow.
"This man seems to be alright for the most part. He seems to have inhaled a lot of smoke."
The EMT nodded and Clark returned to the mine.
One after another he emerged, counting as he went. Six… Seven. The injuries were getting to be more severe.
Boulders fell continuously as more ground gave way. He was running our of time.
Clark braced the next victim's broken arm against his chest. The man groaned in his stupor but did not wake up as he laid him on the gurney.
He looked up at the crowd of concerned loved ones and onlookers. Clark saw Mitch sitting on the edge of a flatbed truck, an EMT administering oxygen.
"Is that everyone?" Clark asked, his hearing focused on the mine.
"I…I..think so?" Mitch looked unsure.
"Jacob? Jacob!?" A woman's voice was heard over the general buzz of the crowd. "Has anyone seen my son? Jacob?" A stout woman with salt and pepper hair in loose bun searched frantically through the crowd. When her frightened eyes fell on Clark, she broke into a run. "Oh Superman! Thank goodness! Did you rescue my son? He's nineteen, as tall as you but skinny…" she gestured wildly, her panic growing.
Clark stepped toward the woman, "I don't think I saw him in there ma'am." The woman's eyes shone with fresh tears. He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "But I won't come back without him."
"Oh thank you! Thank you." She squeezed his hand. "Bless you."
Clark nodded seriously and turned back to the mine.
The air was dank with the smell of burning coal and plastic. Clark sped into the mine past the debris he'd already cleared. He scanned every room with his x-ray vision and darted in and out of the rooms too thick with lead to see through.
There was no sign of Jacob.
Suddenly there was a hiss and a ball of fire roared toward him. Various gas emissions were combining with the small flames on the floor, causing bursts of fire throughout the mine. I need to hurry. Clark thought. Those flames are sucking up the oxygen in this mine with every flare up.
Clark lifted off the ground a few inches so as not to disturb the remainder of the precariously situated debris and made his way through the ever-narrowing tunnel.
He was about to declare the mine empty when his eye caught a flash of metal. Clark dashed over to a pile of boulders that had accumulated during the collapses. A dirty and bruised hand hung limply from one of the crevices. Clark began to pull away the boulders as quickly and gently as he dared. Little by little more of the boy appeared. He scanned the boy's still form.
No. Clark cried out silently. Not today.
He pulled Jacob's body from the carnage and laid him flat on the ground. He applied five quick compressions to the boy's chest and breathed into his mouth.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
"Jacob! Come on Jacob! Stay with me."
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
Clark pressed again Jacob's chest, trying not to let his fear translate into strength on the boy's already battered body.
For the second time that day, Clark listened for a heartbeat.
This time, faintly… it came.
Breathing a sigh of relief, and shaking to his very core, Clark gathered Jacob into his arms and exited the mine for the last time.
The crowd erupted into wild cheers and applause when he emerged from the mine. EMTs encircled him immediately, seeing to Jacob's vitals.
Clark looked over the boys lanky frame.
"He has some pretty severe bone bruises and there are two cracked ribs but all in all I'd say he was lucky. The mine is pretty well collapsed, but there is no one else inside."
"A miracle!" Jacob's mother came running from the within the crowd, tears streaming down her face. She ran to her son's side, weeping and kissing his face.
After relaying the damage reports of the mine to the overseers and powers that be; Clark pulled back from the crowds watched the reunions. Sons embraced their parents, fathers clinging tightly to their children. Any problems from the day forgotten as they held those they loved close to them, grateful for one more chance to do so.
Clark blinked, surprised to find tears in his own eyes. He surveyed the area, seeing his work was done he turned to fly away.
"Superman?" A timid voice spoke behind him.
Clark's boot returned to the ground and he turned to see Jacob's mother standing before him, her hands clutched in front of her.
"My name is Maryanne Walters. Jacob's mom."
Clark smiled and nodded.
"Thank you. Thank you for not giving up on my son. I don't know if I'd have gotten him back if it hadn't been for you. I wish there was some way I could repay you."
"It was my honor Ms. Walters. I'm sure he'll be as good as new in no time at all."
"Maryanne. Please!" She reached into her pocket and produced a clean white handkerchief. Maryanne stepped forward and wiped a bit of soot from Clark's cheek.
Clark started at the maternal gesture, remembering the times his mother had done this very thing for him when he was a boy. A sudden wave of loss crashed down on him so strongly he turned his head away.
"Thank you." he whispered, swallowing the lump in his throat.
Maryanne reached up and wiped away the tear streaking through the dirt on Clark's face.
"You're welcome." Maryanne folded the hanky and put it back in her pocket and laid her small hand on his forearm. "It's alright." Maryanne's southern accent drawled gently.
"I lost my mother tonight." The words fell like a rush of water, uncontrolled from his heart to his mouth. Clark nearly gasped in the shock that he'd spoken those words to a total stranger.
Maryanne looked up at him in surprise at such a personal confession. Her surprised melted away to understanding, and then sympathy.
"I'm sorry." Clark coughed roughly and composed himself, taking a step back.
"Sugar, I don't care how many planes you put down in baseball fields, you're as human as any one of us. So, don't you ever apologize for something like that. " Maryanne stepped forward and wrapped her plump arms around his midsection.
Clark returned the hug somewhat awkwardly at first and then gave Maryanne's shoulders a quick squeeze before she released him.
"You rescued me from the very pain you're going through tonight, and there's no amount of thank you's I can say to express my gratitude. I know we probably won't cross paths again, but I'll tell you this, you have one more person remembering you in her prayers."
Maryanne bent down and picked up a small piece of coal from the ground and handed it to him. Clark looked at her in confusion. "You hold on to that and think of what you did here today. And remember it's the pressures of life that turn a lump of coal into a diamond."
Clark nodded, genuinely touched by the gesture.
"Anytime you find yourself hungry and flying over West Virginia, you swoop on down to Maryanne's kitchen. I'll feed ya so well you're boots won't fit!"
Clark laughed in spite of himself.
And with that he lifted off into the night sky, the weight on his shoulders somehow a bit lighter.