SUPERMAN IS MISSING

by Kirk Hastings

(#2 in a Series)

GUEST CAST:

Sgt. Helen J. O'Hara ... Joi Lansing

Clark Kent walked into the Daily Planet's City Room to check the teletype. He noticed that, instead of being busy at their desks, most of the room's staff was crowded around a radio in one corner of the room. He walked over to see what was holding their attention.

"What's going on?" he asked, spotting Jimmy Olsen in the crowd.

Jimmy turned around and greeted him, concern in his voice. "Mr. Kent! Listen -- they're interrupting the radio station for an emergency bulletin!"

Only silence, overlaid by a great deal of static, was coming over the radio. Suddenly a droning signal came on, indicating that the current transmission was in the process of being interrupted from another source. Then a tinny, distant-sounding voice came over the speaker:

"This is Civil Defense with an emergency bulletin for all civilian, police and military channels. Repeat: this is Civil Defense with an emergency bulletin for all civilian, police and military channels!"

His attention captured now, Clark bent over and listened intently to the radio transmission.

"All east coast residents located anywhere between New York state and West Virginia, stay tuned for emergency instructions. Repeat: stay tuned for emergency instructions!"

There was a moment of silence and more static, followed momentarily by a different voice.

"This is Major Robert Maxwell, commanding officer of White Sands Missile Base located at Fort Bliss in southern Nevada. Due to an electronic malfunction and subsequent breakdown in established security procedures, a prototype intercontinental ballistic missile was accidentally launched from this facility exactly fourteen and one-half minutes ago. This particular missile contains a live atomic warhead. Repeat: this particular missile contains a live atomic warhead! So far all abort procedures have failed. This warhead will go off on impact. Repeat: the warhead will go off on impact. The missile's current trajectory will most likely bring it down somewhere over south central Pennsylvania within the next thirty minutes. All residents within three hundred miles of Lancaster, Pennsylvania are ordered to evacuate immediately, and report to either your local bomb shelter or Civil Defense facility. Repeat: all residents within three hundred miles of Lancaster, Pennsylvania are ordered to evacuate immediately!"

"Gosh, Mr. Kent! What can -- "

Jimmy broke off in mid-sentence as he turned around and discovered that Clark Kent was no longer standing there. He was gone.

Unobserved in an outer hallway, Kent yanked open the door of a storeroom and quickly stepped inside. Less than a minute later the mighty form of Superman leaped out of the storeroom window into the afternoon sky with a loud whoosh.

By now people all over the country were standing by their radios and television sets, hanging on every news bulletin about the out-of-control missile. Panic-stricken residents in the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, West Virginia and New Jersey began to flood the streets and highways, frantically trying to get out of the target area. Bus depots and train stations were crowded to overflowing as people without automobiles tried desperately to find a way to get out of the danger zone.

Meanwhile Superman soared upward into the sky, a human missile himself, cape flapping wildly in the wind as he tried to sight the runaway missile with his Super-vision. Higher and higher he went, soon reaching the upper edge of the earth's atmosphere.

Then he saw it. It was coming toward him, but still some hundreds of miles away. Superman leveled himself off and headed in a trajectory that would bring him right into the path of the oncoming weapon.

He had already decided that trying to physically catch the missile and lower it to the ground somehow without setting it off would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. His best bet would be to collide head-on with it, and explode it in the upper atmosphere, where the force of the resultant explosion and radiation that would result would be harmlessly dispelled miles above the earth's surface.

Of course the one unknown in that plan was if he could survive a point blank impact with a nuclear bomb. But he decided that it was a chance he would have to take. Millions of lives other than his own were at stake, and he could not risk the bomb getting by him and reaching the ground, where it would explode on impact and cause unimaginable death and devastation.

Radar tracking stations across the United States were now picking up his form on their screens, rapidly closing with the renegade projectile. The word went out over the air that Superman was heading on a collision course with the missile.

All over the Daily Planet building, employees were now anxiously listening to the radio reports. They were glad that Superman was on the job, but fearful of what the consequences of him colliding with a nuclear missile might be.

In the City Room, Jimmy Olsen turned to Lois Lane, who was now standing next to him.

"Gee, Miss Lane, do you think even Superman can survive an explosion of that magnitude?" Jimmy asked.

Lois looked at him, fear showing in her eyes. She did not answer the question.

At the local Metropolis Police precinct, all of the officers on duty were also crowded around the radio, listening to the ongoing reports. Sgt. Helen J. O'Hara was one of the officers.

"Superman's strong all right, but can he survive an atomic bomb explosion?" one of the officers speculated. "It's hard to believe that any living being could do that."

He's got to survive it Sgt. O'Hara thought to herself. He's just got to.

# # #

The tense residents of Lancaster, Pennsylvania that had stayed behind because, for one reason or another, they could not evacuate, jerked their faces upward when the sky above them suddenly exploded.

There was a bright flash up in the clouds, so bright that it made the sun look feeble in comparison. Most people outside stopped dead in their tracks, forced to shield their eyes from the blinding explosion of light.

Moments later, when the brightness finally subsided, there was a low rumbling noise that traveled slowly across the sky. It was like thunder, only more ominous sounding.

Finally all was quiet.

# # #

Sarah Stoltzfus, a nineteen-year-old Amish girl, was sitting quietly on the front porch of her parents' farm home peeling potatoes for supper when the flash came. For a moment she had to shield her eyes from the extreme brightness. Then the sky returned to its normal hue, and she looked around. What could have caused such an unnatural burst of light? She wiped her hands on her white apron and stood up, looking out across the farm fields that her family owned. Her father and brother were out working the fields to the south, as it was late summer and the corn needed to be cut.

Just then something caught her eye to the west. She put her hand over her eyes and squinted, trying to see better.

Something was falling out of the sky, headed toward the ground a few hundred yards away from where she stood. It was an odd object, about the size of a man—but it also resembled a piece of cloth, flapping wildly in the wind.

She could hear a muffled thump as the object, whatever it was, landed heavily on the ground. Her curiosity aroused, she descended the stairs of the porch and started to run toward where the object had come down.

After a few minutes she came to a little rise in the ground. She could not remember that rise being there before. Cautiously she climbed up to its apex, and looked down the other side.

She could now see the object that had fallen from the sky.

It was a man! But a man totally unlike anyone she had ever seen before.

She stood silently, unmoving, staring incredulously down into the small crater that surrounded the man, not quite trusting her eyes at what she was seeing. The man was young, handsome, and muscular, and lay on his back in the center of the crater apparently caused by his impact with the ground. He was dressed in a manner unlike any she had ever seen before: he wore a form-fitting red and blue uniform of some kind, with a long cape attached at the neckline. The bright colors of his costume contrasted sharply with her own simple black dress, white apron, and white bonnet.

Her curiosity finally overcoming her fear, she cautiously descended the side of the crater to get a closer look at the man. Once at the bottom she stooped down, reaching out gingerly to touch the figure that lay there, if only to assure herself that he was in fact real.

He was. And furthermore, he was still breathing!

She looked up, trying to understand where the man had come from. There was nothing in the sky above her to explain where he had fallen from. But the crater that he lay in suggested that he had fallen from a great height. Yet how could he still be alive, and in one piece, if he had fallen from such a great distance? And exactly where did he fall from? An airplane?

That didn't make any sense. No human being could fall to the ground from an airplane and live.

And yet here he was. She touched him again, trying to ascertain if any of his bones were broken. He did not appear to be physically hurt in any way. Other than being unconscious, he seemed to be perfectly whole and uninjured. His breathing was normal and regular.

She remembered the flash of light she had seen in the sky. Was there a connection between that and this strange man? For a fleeting moment she considered if he could be an angel from Heaven. Then she remembered the Biblical story of Lucifer.

She stood up, suddenly afraid. Could this be a fallen angel that God had thrown out of Heaven?

She looked at the man again. No, she dismissed that idea. No angel she had ever seen, fallen or otherwise, depicted in books or the Bible ever looked like this. Even unconscious, there was something good and noble about this man. She could feel it. There was nothing evil about this person, whoever he was.

But what was she to do now? Somehow she had to get him to the house, where she could put him to bed. Perhaps then he would return to consciousness, and she could find out who he was.

She put her hands under his arms and tried to move him. He was extremely heavy. She realized that she would never be able to get him out of the crater ... much less drag him all the way back to the house. She would need help.

She climbed back up out of the depression and started to run toward where she knew her father and brother were cutting corn. They would help her to get the stranger back to the house.

# # #

After Sarah's father Jacob and younger brother Luke had helped her to get the unconscious stranger into their house and upstairs into the spare bedroom they laid him out on the bed.

"Good Lord, he's heavy," Sarah's father exclaimed, huffing and puffing from the effort. "He feels like he weighs at least three hundred pounds."

Sarah's mother, Hannah, hovered in the room's doorway, having followed the men up the stairs. "He doesn't look that heavy," she commented.

"All the same, carrying him up here was like carrying a dead weight," Jacob wheezed.

Luke examined the strange uniform the stranger was wearing, looking for a way to remove it. "There are no zippers, hooks, buttons or seams in this," he exclaimed, puzzled. "How does it come off?"

"I've never seen clothing like that before, even on the English," Jacob added. "Is that a uniform of some kind?"

Luke shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. It's made of some strange material that I've never seen before."

Since they couldn't remove the odd costume, the men just put a pillow under the stranger's head and covered him with a blanket.

"Do you think we should fetch Doc Lapp for him?" Hannah asked.

"Yes, that would be a good idea," Jacob answered. "I don't know what's wrong with him. Maybe Paul can figure out why he's still unconscious."

"He doesn't seem to be physically injured," Sarah observed.

"But where did he come from?" her father exclaimed. "And where did that hole he was in come from? It wasn't there yesterday, I'm sure of it."

No one could answer him. There were too many questions concerning the strangely-garbed man – and, so far, no answers.

# # #

When Paul Lapp, the local Amish physician for the Stoltzfus's district, arrived, Jacob led him up into the still-unconscious stranger's room, ordering the rest of the family to wait outside in the hallway. When Lapp pulled back the quilt on the bed and saw the costume the man was wearing, he gasped.

"What is it?" Jacob asked him.

"Do you know who this is?" Lapp replied.

Jacob shook his head in the negative.

"He's the one the Englishers call Superman!" Lapp told him.

"Superman?" Jacob exclaimed. "Who is Superman?"

Lapp stared at the powerful figure lying on the bed. "I see his picture in the newspapers all the time! He's some mysterious person who has great physical powers far beyond those of ordinary men, and he uses them to fight criminals and lawbreakers. No one knows where he came from, or how he got his superhuman abilities. Some say he might even be from another planet!"

Jacob, who rarely read newspapers, was confused by this. "What kind of powers?" he asked.

"Supposedly he has the strength of a thousand men, and he can fly through the air like a bird!" Lapp explained. "And nothing is supposed to be able to hurt him. But apparently something has affected him, to leave him unconscious like this."

Jacob found everything Lapp was telling him hard to believe. "Paul, just examine him and see if you can tell what's wrong with him. And forget the fairy tales about men from other planets who can fly like birds!"

Lapp shot a disgusted look at Jacob. Then he picked up his medical bag and went to work.

No one had noticed that Sarah had been listening closely to all of this through the slightly ajar door.

# # #

A short time later Lapp came out of the bedroom and confronted the Stoltzfus family.

"I can't find anything wrong with him," Lapp said. "He has no physical injuries that I can detect. Not even a bump on the head. I don't know why he's not conscious."

"What do you suggest we do with him?" Jacob asked.

"Just let him alone until he comes around, that's all. Then let him go on his way."

"All right, Paul. Thank you," Jacob replied. He ushered Lapp and his family members down the stairs, ordering his family to leave the visitor alone until he woke up.

But Sarah had other ideas.

And so did Paul Lapp. As he left the Stoltzfus's home he decided that this was something that should certainly be reported to the district elders.

# # #

Consciousness came very slowly. He struggled to bring himself up out of the darkness. Finally his thoughts began to congeal. With a herculean effort he forced opened his eyes.

More darkness. But as he stared his surroundings began to take shape.

He was lying in a large bed in a small, simple room. The bed was covered by a very ornate quilt that appeared to be hand-made. Though it was dark, he could tell that the walls of the room were plain, light brown plaster. There were no pictures or ornaments anywhere. A closed wooden door was directly ahead of him.

With great effort he swiveled his head to the left. There he saw a wooden chest sitting against the wall, with another ornately-sewn quilt covering it. A small, unlit kerosene lantern sat on it. Above the chest were a series of hooks on the wall for clothing, but nothing was hanging on them. To his immediate left was a window, but it was covered by a simple green shade that was pulled down. There was no light coming in, so he assumed that it was night outside. Yet, for some strange reason, he could still see quite well.

He looked to his right. More of the same: there was a plain wooden bureau sitting next to the bed with a mirror mounted above it, and there was a ladder-back chair sitting against the wall. There was nothing else in the room.

The room was totally unfamiliar to him. He didn't think that he had ever seen it before.

But then he realized he didn't even know who he was.

# # #

The sun was just coming up over the horizon when Sarah climbed the narrow stairway to the second floor and opened the door to the bedroom there. She was carrying a tray with some toast and orange juice on it.

"Oh!" she exclaimed in surprise. The stranger was now awake, out of bed, and standing in front of the bureau, staring at himself in the mirror.

"I didn't know you were awake," she said.

The tall stranger turned to face her.

"What is this that I'm wearing?" he said to her in a puzzled voice.

Sarah crossed the room and put the tray down on the wooden chest. Then she turned toward him. "I don't know. You were wearing it when we found you. I have never seen clothes like that before."

The stranger turned back toward the mirror, once again staring quizzically at the costume he wore. He traced the strange "S" symbol on his chest with his fingers, wondering what it stood for.

Finally Sarah gathered up the courage to ask: "What -- what is your name?"

The stranger turned back again to look at her.

"I don't know," he said. "I can't seem to remember my name. Or anything else."

"You don't remember your own name?"

The stranger shook his head. "No."

"Do you remember anything about who you are?"

"No. Nothing. I was hoping you could tell me who I am."

This time Sarah shook her head. "No, I cannot. I never saw you before yesterday afternoon."

"How did I get here?"

Sarah tried to explain how she had found him.

"That doesn't make any sense," he said.

Sarah shrugged. She didn't understand how or where he had come from either.

The stranger started toward the door. "I don't want to impose on you any more than I already have," he said. "Thank you for your help so far, but I should be on my way."

"Please stop!" Sarah called after him with an uncharacteristic boldness.

The stranger stopped in surprise and turned back toward her.

"You -- you can't just leave in your condition," she told him. "Where would you go? And you certainly can't go out dressed like that!"

The stranger thought for a moment. She had a point.

"What do you suggest?" he asked.

"Stay with us for a while," she proposed. "You can borrow some of our clothes, and perhaps after a few days your memory will come back. Then you can go home -- wherever that is."

The stranger considered this. "Are you certain that would be all right?"

Sarah smiled. "Of course it would be! We would be glad to have you stay with us until you are better. In the meantime you can help do some chores around the farm to earn your keep, if you wish."

The stranger thought for a moment, then nodded his head in agreement.

# # #

"Mr. White, Sgt. O'Hara of the Metropolis police department is here to see you," came the voice over Perry White's intercom.

"Send her in," White replied.

Sgt. O'Hara came into White's office and stopped in front of his desk. Her facial expression was one of deep concern.

"Any news?" White asked her.

"No," she told him. "No one has seen or heard from Superman since he exploded the missile yesterday. We don't know what happened to him. We're talking to various federal authorities in an attempt to narrow down the exact location where he impacted with the missile. So far we think it was somewhere in the vicinity of Lancaster, Pennsylvania."

White took a puff on his cigar. "Great," he grumbled. "Not only is Superman missing, but one of my reporters is missing too."

O'Hara's eyebrows went up. "Oh -- which one?" she asked.

"Clark Kent. He hasn't been in since yesterday, and he's not answering his phone."

O'Hara looked thoughtful for a moment. "Tell you what, Mr. White," she said. "I'll stop by his apartment and see if he's there."

"Thanks," White replied. "If you see him, give him a piece of my mind -- and tell him to get in here! We need every reporter we can get to figure out this mystery concerning Superman's whereabouts!"

# # #

There was a knock on the bedroom door.

"Come in," the stranger said.

The door opened and Sarah came into the room.

"Oh – you look fine!" she said.

The stranger turned away from the mirror and faced her. He was now wearing the typical plain clothes of the Amish, consisting of a white shirt, black trousers, and work boots.

"I had to let those out quite a bit in order for them to fit you," Sarah explained. "You're a bit taller and huskier than my father is."

"Thank you," the stranger replied.

Sarah went over and sat down on the edge of the bed, crossing her hands in her lap.

"Now – what shall we call you?" she asked.

The stranger shrugged his shoulders.

"Are you sure you can't remember anything?"

"Well, I've been thinking – the name 'Jim' keeps popping into my mind."

"That's a start. Anything else?"

"I seem to have heard the name 'White' before too."

"All right. Then how about we just call you Jim White for now?"

"I guess that would be all right."

"If anyone asks any questions, we'll just say you're a cousin come to visit from Ohio."

Sarah smiled pleasantly. Her visitor smiled back, noticing how attractive she was.

"And what is your name?" he asked.

"Sarah."

Somehow that name seemed familiar to him. Perhaps he had known Sarah before.

"That's a pretty name," he told her.

Sarah looked down into her lap and blushed.

# # #

O'Hara walked up to the door of apartment 5H in the Standish Arms apartment building; the name above the doorbell read "Clark Kent". She rang the bell. There was no response. Using a standard issue skeleton key, she opened the door and then stepped inside.

"Mr. Kent?" she called. There was no answer. She looked down. There was a pile of mail and two newspapers on the floor just inside the door, where they had been slipped through the mail slot. She stooped and examined the newspapers. They were dated today and yesterday.

Kent had apparently not been in his apartment since the day before -- the same day that Superman had disappeared. The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fit together in her mind.

Height, weight, age, build, color of eyes, color of hair, voice pattern -- everything she had previously checked had matched. Now Superman was missing, and Kent was missing too.

She moved through the apartment, performing a cursory search. She entered Kent's bedroom. There was definitely no one there.

She opened Kent's closet and looked inside. There was a clotheshook inside that looked kind of odd to her trained eye, as if it had been recently fiddled with. She pulled on it, and a secret panel suddenly slid open in the back of the closet.

The space behind the panel was empty -- except for a lone clothes hanger hanging on the clothespole mounted there.

She could guess what Kent had probably hung there.

# # #

Shortly thereafter, Sgt. O'Hara unlocked a police call box located on the street just outside of Clark Kent's apartment building and dialed Perry White's private office number on it. White's secretary immediately put him on the line.

"Yes, Sergeant?" White asked.

"I've just been to Mr. Kent's apartment," O'Hara said. "He's home in bed with a bad case of the flu. He can barely lift his head, and wasn't even able to reach the telephone to call in."

"All right," White replied. "Tell him that as soon as he's feeling well enough, we need him back in the office."

"I'll tell him," O'Hara said. She hung up.

She hated to lie to White that way -- but at least until they could find out what had happened to Superman, she felt an obligation to help keep his secret identity secret.

# # #

Jimmy Olsen came into Lois Lane's office and closed the door behind him. He came over to Lois's desk.

"Have you heard anything about Superman?" he asked her.

Lois turned from her typewriter and looked up at Jimmy with a look of utter frustration on her face.

"No, Jimmy, I'm afraid not," she told him.

"Miss Lane -- do you think he's dead?" Jimmy finally said with some difficulty.

"Of course not!" Lois retorted angrily. "Don't even think that, Jimmy! He's alive. He could be hurt, or something. But he's alive. I'm certain he is!"

"I hope you're right, Miss Lane," Jimmy replied gloomily. "I really hope you're right."

Lois desperately hoped so too.

# # #

Sgt. O'Hara threw her purse and service revolver into her car parked in the lot in the back of police headquarters, then got in and started the engine.

She had examined all the available evidence concerning Superman's collision with the missile, and she felt sure that he must have come down somewhere near the southeastern outskirts of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, after the explosion. After some arguing she had managed to convince Inspector Henderson to allow her to drive out to Lancaster and have a look around. Henderson didn't seem to think that she had much of a chance of finding anything, but he knew how important it was to her to try. So he finally gave in and decided to let her go.

O'Hara pulled away from the curb, and eased her car into the street traffic.

She was absolutely determined not to come back empty-handed.

# # #

O'Hara drove into the Lancaster area via Route 30, arriving at mid-afternoon. She stopped at a local shopping district, where there were many people about. She walked about for a while, asking them questions after identifying herself as a policewoman.

But no one seemed to know anything about Superman, or what had happened to him.

# # #

'Jim White' spent the rest of that day helping Sarah's father harvest green corn for the Stoltzfus's animals. Eli Stoltzfus, Sarah's grandfather, supervised, while Luke headed to a little Amish schoolhouse about a mile down the road. He was in the 7th grade there.

At the end of the day, when they had all finally came in for dinner, Jacob and Eli were greatly impressed with how much hard work their visitor had done. Yet they thought it strange that after all his effort in the midday sun he hadn't sweat. Not a drop.

After dinner Jacob and Hannah retired to the living room to do some reading by lantern light. Luke went up to his bedroom to do homework, and Eli retired to his room. Sarah invited Jim out onto the front porch swing to sit for a while.

They sat next to each other for a few minutes, saying nothing. The farm's grey tabby cat came up onto the porch and gingerly approached Jim. Pleased to see the little animal, Jim reached down and stroked the cat's back. It began to rub affectionately against his leg.

Sarah noted how gentle and kind Jim was with the animal. Despite the many mysteries surrounding him, she was finding that there was much to admire in him.

Finally she asked: "Have you been able to remember anything yet?"

Jim shook his head. "No. Not a thing, I'm afraid."

"Doctor Lapp said that there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with you that he could tell."

"Then I guess then my memory will come back eventually," Jim replied. "I'll just have to wait until it does."

They were silent for a while, quietly watching the moon move across the sky. Then Sarah interrupted the silence again.

"They're having a barn raising tomorrow for the Beiler family. Their barn burned down last week. Would you like to go along?"

"I don't know anything about building barns."

"That's all right – we'll teach you," Sarah replied, smiling. "It will be fun, you'll see!"

"All right," Jim agreed. He smiled back at her. He was finding it very hard to ever say 'no' to Sarah.

# # #

Jacob came in and woke Jim quite early the next morning, and was surprised when Jim got up out of bed almost immediately, more than ready to face the day's events. After breakfast, Hannah and Sarah packed up picnic baskets full of food for lunch, and then the entire family headed over to the Beiler's farm in the family buggy.

When they arrived, there were more than a hundred Amish men there with their families. The men were unpacking their tools, getting ready for the day's work, while the women and children were already busy setting up tables and preparing food for the afternoon meal.

After greetings were exchanged the men got to work. The area where the barn would stand had already been cleared, and the previous structure's foundation had been reinforced and repaired the day before. The men began constructing the walls of the new barn from the piles of lumber stacked nearby that had been obtained earlier. These sections were assembled flat on the ground. Once they were completed, a system of ropes and pulleys would be put together and used to haul the sections upright. Once in an upright position, the walls would be connected together to create the structure's shell.

Jim White pitched in with the work. When the first wall of the barn was fully assembled and the ropes and pulleys had been set in place to haul it upright, the men took a short break to get glasses of lemonade from the women.

Jim, however, not realizing that he was supposed to wait for the other men before proceeding, picked up the rope attached to the wall. Normally it took between five and ten Amish men to pull the wall up into place. Jim pulled on the rope by himself.

The wall began to steadily rise up off the ground.

Almost everyone stopped what they were doing and watched, astonished, as Jim pulled the wall up into place by himself, without even straining.

Effortlessly he held the wall up, waiting for the Amish men to climb the rigging and nail it into place. They hesitated, murmuring amongst themselves.

"How did he do that?"

"Where did he get such superhuman strength?"

"He must be blessed of God, like Samson!"

Sarah stood and stared also, nearly dropping the lemonade pitcher in her hand.

After a moment the Amish men recovered themselves and scurried to fix the wall into place. Jim smiled at them as they did so, not realizing what an unusual display of muscular power he was putting on for them.

For the rest of that day Jim noticed that the Amish men were acting differently toward him than they had before. They continued to work with him, but now they tended to stare at him and act as if they were afraid of him. Jim did not understand why. Even Jacob kept staring at him.

The elders of the district were there that day too, and they also noted everything that happened.

# # #

The next afternoon Jacob needed to go into town for some supplies. Jim offered to go with him. At first Jacob tried to discourage him, but finally he gave in when Jim insisted that he wanted to help. Sarah insisted that she wanted to go too -- so the three clambered into the Stoltzfus family buggy and headed for town.

The three sat quietly as they clip-clopped along the side of the road to town. Occasionally an automobile would pass by them, as they often shared the local roads with them.

Jacob wondered silently about this man who was riding alongside him. He had appeared literally from nowhere, in the process causing an unexplainable depression in one of his farm fields, wearing strange clothing that Jacob had never seen before. Doc Lapp had called him Superman. Who exactly was this Superman, who appeared to have prodigious strength that was far beyond what any ordinary man should have? He seemed harmless and kind enough -- but why did he not remember who he was? And Sarah seemed to be infatuated with him. Could he be a possible danger to her?

The little town of Cross Keys lay a few miles east of Lancaster, PA, and the old general store that Jacob often used was located there on a shady side street. Jacob pulled his buggy up to a hitching rail located just outside of the store. Both men climbed down. Jim helped Sarah down, while Jacob tied the horse to the rail.

Jim noticed a very pretty blonde woman in a dark blue suit talking to an Amish man outside of the store. After a moment the Amish man walked away. The blonde woman turned, and looked directly at Jim.

She froze, staring at him.

At that exact same moment a large black sedan pulled up to the curb next to her. The rear door of the car opened and a huge, burly man dressed in a brown suit stepped out. He looked to be well over six feet tall. His shoulders were extraordinarily wide, and he had an enormous barrel chest.

As the giant stepped toward Sgt. O'Hara she seemed to recognize him. An expression of shock spread across her face, and she started to pull a small pistol out of her suit coat.

She wasn't fast enough. The giant grabbed her arm and squeezed, forcing her to drop the pistol to the pavement. He then forcefully dragged her into the back seat of the black limousine.

Immediately Jim shot forward. Sarah screamed his name, but he ignored her. Just as the rear door of the sedan closed Jim grabbed the handle and pulled. The door came off its hinges.

The car started to pull away from the curb. Jim, encouraged by how easily he had pulled the door off, dropped it to the ground and grabbed the car's rear bumper. The car came to a halt, its tires squealing against the pavement.

Jacob, Sarah, and the other Amish men standing about stared in amazement as Jim held the car tight, preventing it from driving away. Smoke rose around him as the car's tires overheated from the friction.

Then the wheels stopped spinning. Jim let go of the bumper as the driver of the car jumped out. Jim ran up to the driver and grabbed the gun the man was just pulling from inside his coat. Instinctively repeating a motion he had performed many times before as Superman he squeezed, reducing the weapon to scrap metal. He threw it away, then knocked the man unconscious with one punch. The man fell back into the car.

Jim then circled around the car to the other side, where the giant was getting out. The two faced each other. The giant was easily a head taller than Jim was. He grabbed Jim, encircling his arms around Jim's trunk, and squeezed.

The bear hug, intended to press the air out of Jim's lungs and render him unconscious, did not work. Jim, now fully aware of the super strength he possessed, whacked the giant on the forehead with the palm of his hand, and the giant let go. He staggered backward and fell against the car. He bounced off it and fell face down on the ground. He did not move.

Another man, a beefy, scar-faced individual, got out of the front passenger seat of the car. He was holding a tommy-gun, which he pointed straight at Jim.

Sarah screamed as the man fired. The bullets tore into Jim's Amish clothes, ripping them to shreds and revealing his Superman costume underneath.

When the tommy-gun finally ran out of bullets Superman, now finally aware of who he really was, stepped forward and grabbed the weapon out of the crook's hand. He twisted the barrel into a pretzel and threw it aside. Then a punch to the jaw sent the man straight to the pavement, unconscious.

Superman approached the limo and helped Sgt. O'Hara get out. The big, broad-shouldered crook lying on the sidewalk began to stir, but a well-paced karate chop to the back of the neck by Sgt. O'Hara sent him immediately back into dreamland.

"Thanks," Superman said, smiling at her.

"Any time," Sgt. O'Hara replied. Then, throwing all decorum to the wind, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. "Oh, I'm so glad to see you again!" she exclaimed.

"Likewise," Superman told her, somewhat taken aback by her emotional greeting.

Sarah stood a few paces away watching all this with a sad expression on her face.

"Where were you all this time?" O'Hara asked him. "We were all worried sick about you!"

"I'm not quite sure," Superman told her. "Apparently I fell to earth and lost my memory for a while after impacting with the missile. I just now realized who I was. I guess the impact of the machine gun bullets brought my memory back. ... Who are these guys, anyway?"

"The driver is Duke Pizanno. He's an old enemy of mine. He must have gotten word somehow that I came out here alone to look for you, and figured this would be a good time to rub me out while I'm away from familiar turf. The big honey is Rocko, an associate of his. The third one is Greer, another long-time buddy of Pizanno's."

"Hmmm. Well, I guess you'd probably like to clean up now," Superman said. O'Hara nodded and began to move among the prone criminals, handcuffing them to each other.

"Will you be all right getting back to Metropolis?" Superman asked after she had completed her task.

"Sure. The local precinct will lock these thugs up for the time being. We'll extradite them later." Just as she said that a local police car pulled up. She started to walk over to it to talk to the driver.

Abruptly she turned back toward Superman. "Oh -- I need to talk to you about a few things once we get back."

Superman waved his assent. O'Hara turned and continued over to the police car. Superman walked over to Jacob.

"Mr. Stoltzfus, I'm sure this is all quite confusing to you -- but thank you for taking me in while I was, uh, recovering from my accident. I really appreciate all your help and hospitality. I hope I wasn't too much trouble. And I'm sorry about the clothes you lent me to wear. I'll make sure you are reimbursed for them."

Jacob shook his head, still somewhat stunned by what he had just seen. "Don't worry about the clothes, young man," he managed to say as he shook Superman's hand. "You just be careful out there among those English!"

Superman smiled at him. Then he turned to locate Sarah in the crowd. He walked over to her.

She looked down at the sidewalk, as if she couldn't bear to look at him in his Superman uniform. He took her chin between his thumb and forefinger and turned her face up toward him.

"And thank you very much, Sarah, for all the help you were to me," he said. "I won't soon forget your kindness and friendship."

He kissed her on her cheek. She managed to smile back at him, although her heart was breaking. She knew that they lived in vastly different worlds, and that he was going back to his. And she must remain in hers.

She watched him as he stepped back from her. After saying goodbye he took a short running start and leaped up into the air with a mighty bound. The amazed crowd stared as they watched the Man of Steel rapidly recede up into the sky, his backwash blowing their hats and clothes about.

Sarah watched him disappear too, as a single tear slowly trickled down her cheek.

THE END

(Dedicated to the enduring memories of George Reeves and Joi Lansing.)