Authors: Elliot S. Maggin
The boy would be ready, Jonathan Kent decided, when he was able to feel pain.
Jonathan had already awakened his wife Martha three or four times this night with his tossing and turning, but she had not been awake enough any of those times either to stay awake or to notice why she had awakened. This time, when Jonathan screamed a shrill, horrible scream, she was awake enough.
"My land, Jonathan! What is it?"
He screamed again, catching the sound short in his throat as he woke himself up.
"Jonathan! Oh dear, please wake up, Jonathan."
He grabbed at his pillow, tensed his muscles, slowly let them go.
"Jonathan? Are you all right, Jonathan? Won't you please wake up?"
"I'm awake, I'm awake. I don't think I ever want to go to sleep again."
"What a horrid thing to say. I've never known you to have bad dreams before."
"I've never had a dream this bad before."
"Do you want to tell me about it?" She no more wanted to hear about it than she wanted to stay awake any longer, but she was ready to comfort her husband back into sleep.
"Don't even want to tell
about it. Go back to sleep, Martha."
"Good night, Jonathan."
"Good night, dear."
But Jonathan had to tell himself about it. It was more than a dream, of course. It was the future—the real future—and not distant at all. He repeated it in his mind over
and over until he tortured himself with the experience, tortured himself into coming up
with a solution.
It had begun this past afternoon, Thanksgiving Day, with the turkey. Jonathan had stopped raising livestock for slaughter a few years ago, soon after he and Martha had adopted little Clark. Martha bought this turkey from young Maynard Stone whose father, James Stone the bank president, had thought it was a better idea for his son to go into the backyard turkey-breeding business than to simply give his son an allowance. Maynard, nearly grown now, was a good boy, taking care of his father with turkey money through the banker's long illness.
Martha brought the kicking and gobbling turkey home and nine-year-old Clark helped his mother by snapping the bird's neck and plucking its feathers in the twinkling of an eye. Sarah Lang and her young daughter Lana came to the Kent farm for Thanksgiving dinner because Professor Martin Lang was off in Yucatan or the Sinai Desert or Thailand or somewhere on one of his archaeological digs. Martin called the farm at dinnertime from wherever he was to say hi and happy Thanksgiving, and Sarah told him it was the best-tasting dinner she had ever had. For all Jonathan knew it may have been. He was not enjoying himself.
All through the meal Martha went on about what a good boy Clark was and what a help he had been. Of course, she left out certain facts in her approbation. Clark had, for example, dressed and stuffed the bird in four seconds, including time out to ask Martha whether she wanted thyme in the stuffing. Also, when the bird was not done in time, Clark had finished roasting it with heat vision. And through it all, Jonathan had trouble noticing how good everything tasted because something was bothering him about the bird, about his wife, about the smiling faces of his neighbors and his compliment-collecting son.
That part of the dream was real, from the past afternoon and evening. The rest of the dream took place in the future, but it was also real:
Sometime during the next few years a pair of bored, broke adventurers in diving suits tried to rob the Smallville branch of the Heartland Bank and Trust Company. The event in progress was broadcast over a police-band radio in Jonathan Kent's general store, the store Jonathan was planning to buy when he sold the farm later this year. Lana Lang was in the store at the time, and Jonathan covered for young Clark by asking him to go to the basement and bring up a package from storage. Clark brought back no package. Clark was Superboy, and this was the day he would tell the world he had arrived.
Clark stripped to the costume he wore under his street clothes, the costume Jonathan and Martha had made for him from the unraveled material of the blankets in which, as an infant, Clark had come to Earth. He dove through the tunnel he had built from the basement of the store to a wooded area. He found the robbers jumping into a lake from a pier outside of town. Police in their cars were unable to follow them into the water.
Superboy plopped out of the sky into the lake and spotted the pair merrily plowing through deep murk, breathing their canned air. The boy knifed through the water and gripped steely hands around a pair of aluminum air tanks. He punctured both tanks in five places. The air rushed out, and a minute later—fifty-nine seconds after police and onlookers saw the not-yet-familiar red-and-blue streak pop straight up into the sky in a spout and a swirl—people saw the corpses of the pair of drowned bank robbers surface in a dead man's float until the police could fish their blue bodies from the lake.
Superboy's work was not done. Up, up and away through the sky he flew.
In a nearby national forest preserve a timber wolf was menacing a forest ranger. The ranger held an empty rifle in one hand and reached for the door of the truck with the other. The ranger had scared the wolf into growling at arm's distance while he had edged twelve feet to the truck. His fingertips reached the truck door. Then, deliberately and with no quick moves, he would position himself. In one motion he would leap into the cab and slam the door closed. The window on this side was shut, the wolf couldn't get in. He would slam on his pedal and leave the beast behind. He would make it now. He knew it.
A red-and-blue gust of wind swept down from the sky and left the animal, its jaw shattered like a dropped piece of pottery, dead on the forest floor. Superboy stopped to introduce himself and shake hands with the bewildered ranger, then soared off.
On the other side of the preserve there was a drought, the only one in the country that year. Farmers were losing their wheat crops, hundreds of thousands of acres. Superboy plowed a system of trenches and canals through the area, linking it with the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, irrigating the countryside for all time, or until the rivers choked themselves with silt and waste, whichever came first. Fallow land would bloom again. The boy stopped to make a statement to the press.
In Minneapolis there was a little blind girl undergoing a brain operation. The tumor that had sat against her optic nerve and made her blind since the age of eight months had begun to grow, and it had to come out. The supervising neurosurgeon had delivered the child six years earlier in a stalled elevator, the only delivery he had made since he was an intern. Now he had to save her life. He was as nervous as he had ever been. It was he who had made the decision not to remove the tumor when it made the girl blind. There was about one chance in a hundred that her brain would survive this operation. The doctor guided a tiny scalpel past her optic nerve in order to separate the tumor from the bone tissue it touched, and then he remembered that this little girl whose skull lay open under his hand was someone he loved. His fingers were going to shake. He knew it. The scalpel vanished from his hand.
Suddenly, beside the neurosurgeon, there stood a handsome black-haired boy, maybe thirteen years old, dressed in a bizarre red-and-blue costume with an odd pentagonal red-and-yellow emblem on his chest. In the moment the doctor and his surgery team looked on without knowing what to do, Superboy cleanly vaporized the deadly growth and with a puff of air he cooled the space where it had been. Six days from now, for the first time since her infancy, the girl would be able to see. Superboy told the doctors and the hospital's publicity department who he was and what he had done, and he called the neurosurgeon a bumbling incompetent in front of his colleagues.
Superboy crashed through virgin forests to help build roads or dig mines. For the good of society he dropped tyrants, heinous criminals and chronic speeders into volcanoes. He was a weekend guest at the White House where he suggested that the president make him defacto Commander in Chief of all American military forces, since, according to Superboy, he would be in charge of everything soon enough anyway. The president considered the expediency of this.
Jonathan Kent knew about kryptonite. No one had yet given a name to the glowing green stone that the boy once closed up in a lead tube and buried under a corner of the Kents' old barn. No one knew it was a fragment of the exploded planet Krypton, the lost world of the boy's birth. All anyone knew was that one day, when Clark was about four or five, there was a splash of meteors in the sky over the farm. The boy decided to dart into the sky and see if he could catch one of the fiery rocks before they all fizzled into nothingness with air friction. Thirty miles over the farm the child caught hundreds of them in the little red cape of his playsuit. The biggest one was the size of a baseball. Mostly they were cosmic gravel. But as he tied the ends of his cape into a hobo knot, he felt dizzy and lost the power of flight; it was all he could do, as he fell to Earth, to catch currents of air and point himself in the direction of home. Martha heard a thud in the back of the house and found her son at the bottom of a ten-foot hole, threw the cape and the meteorites away and dragged the child into the house where, almost immediately, he woke up crying.
The next morning Jonathan took the boy out to the barn, where he had laid out the rocks. Some of them looked quite remarkable: one was orange striated with blue; another was melted and bubbled with friction on one side and solid as granite on the other, as though someone had thrown a knuckleball at Earth's atmosphere; the shape of one looked to Clark like the bill of a duck.
One, the size and shape of a big marble, was undistinguished except for the fact that it glowed slightly in a dull green color. It was the radiation of that stone that made the boy fall down again in the barn.
That was years ago, and no one had talked much since then about what the stone might be. Maybe the boy had forgotten about it.
Now—Jonathan dreamed—Superboy was already being worshipped as a messiah by people who should know better. Superboy should know better. Soon he would take the power of the life and death of the planet into his hands. He was a boy—no more than a boy, with a boy's emotions, a boy's caprices, a boy's lack of restraint—with the power of the gods of fable.
The man certainly did not want to kill his son. Father's do not kill their sons. He did not even want to punish him. He only wanted to talk to him—to make him listen, the way a boy ought to listen to his father. But when Jonathan drove out to the old barn that night and took three shovelfuls of dirt out of the corner where the lead-encased meteorite was buried, the shovel hit something solid the fourth time it sliced the earth, and Jonathan shuddered.
What was he nervous about? Clark hadn't buried the meteorite that shallowly; the shovel had hit a rock, that was all. Jonathan pulled the shovel out and chopped into the ground a few inches away: it hit something again. Another rock, probably.
Then, what should have been a rock under the shovel pushed the blade up out of the ground, shook off some dirt, and the rock became a sooty hand at the end of a blue sleeve. The arm shoved itself out of the dirt and pushed at the shovel, throwing Jonathan to the ground. And following the arm out of the earth was the body to which it was attached—the figure of Jonathan's adopted son Clark, in his red-and-blue flying suit—the boy the world knew and feared as Superboy.