“I’m telling you the truth,” the young boy told his parents. “I saw a flying man come out of the sky and steal dad’s shirt.”
“When did you start getting such a god-awful imagination,” his father demanded as he stood over the seven year old, who was covered in mud from his playing outside.
“I’m sure you ruined your father’s shirt playing in the mud, and got scared,” his mother asked with a more understanding smile.
“Honest, mom,” he whined. “He was taller than dad, and came out of the sky, and then flew back up again after he grabbed dad’s shirt.
“I only got muddy trying to follow him when I fell into the creek.”
“Boy, if you don’t stop such obvious….”
The threat was interrupted by a knocking at the front door. “I’ll get it,” Sara Connors told her husband.
“You peel the rest of his clothes off, and get him in the tub.”
“Maybe you should…?” David was too late. Sara had left him with the task of getting their son moderately presentable before carrying him through the house to the waiting bath. He sighed, and knelt down to start tugging at the wet, muddy shirt that stuck to him like glue.
He was about ready to give up and cut the muddy tee-shirt from his son’s body when Sara came up behind him. “David,” she spoke a bit anxiously. “Roger wants to talk to you.”
“What does he want now,” he sighed, knowing the old man next door tended to have more complaints than anyone he had ever known. Especially considering they lived five miles apart here in the corner of the state most people avoided if they could help it.
“Honey, you should…listen to him.”
“Just wondering if you saw something,” the old man asked David.
The old man didn’t seem angry, or upset as usual. This time he didn’t even mention his son in four letter terminology. He was scratching his head, and looking bemused.
“See what?,” David asked.
“I was telling’ your wife, Connors. I was out plowing up the backside of my place, when I heard your kid shout. First off, I figured he was up to some mischief. So I went to see what he was doing.”
“Look, Mr. Elliot…”
“That’s when I found your boy face down in the creek, and trying to climb out. Only he wasn’t looking at me, or the ground. He was staring up. So’s I looked up, too, and….
“You’ll think I been drinking, Connors, but damned if I didn’t see a half-naked man flying off with one your old shirts.
“I swear,” he added, nodding his head. “Thought I was going’ nuts. Till your boy jumps up muddier than any son I’ve ever seen, and yells, “He stole my dad’s shirt,” about as loud as he can.”
“My….shirt,” David swallowed hard.
“Yep. That dreadful blue flannel you are so partial to of late.’
“He had it in one hand, and was flying right off like a bird.”
David shook his head. “That’s…That’s impossible. Men can’t..fly,” he rasped, thinking of his son’s absurd claims.
“And don’t I know it. Only that one didn’t seem to know. He took off like he was born with wings.”
The two men stared at one another, then Roger Elliot shook his head. “So, you didn’t see nothing?”
“No, but…..Sam has been trying to convince us he did. I thought he was spinning stories again until you…..
“So, ah, Roger. What now?”
“Well, I’m wishing you’d seen him, too. I don’t care to lower my reputation around here any more than it already is,” he grimaced. “And if I go tell Bob what I saw,” he shook his head as he named the country sheriff. “I’m liable to spend a night in jail for drunkenness.”
“Well, I didn’t see anything. But…..Sam obviously did. He’s been going on about that flying man until we thought he was going to…..
“Never mind. Maybe…..We should just forget this. He’s obviously not sticking around.”
“I don’t know. I figured we ought to warn folks, at the least. What if he comes back?” David frowned. “You think he might?”
“Who can say,” Roger shrugged. “He might just be testing the….air, so to speak ’round here. If he thinks he can get away with a shirt? What might be next on his list?”
“I’ll call Bob,” David said, thinking of his son, and how easily he could have been taken, or hurt, had this man wanted to try something else. Roger was right, they had better call the sheriff, just to be safe.
“Hello,” the strange voice spoke from behind her.
“Oh,” Laura gasped, almost dropping her axe on her foot as she spun around from the wood pile to gape at the tall, muscular man in a faded, blue flannel shirt, and equally worn jeans. “I….I didn’t hear you. Where did you come from,” she asked a bit anxiously as she looked around the yard that surrounded her isolated home.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he told her. “I was just passing through, and well……You can probably tell my luck hasn’t been all that good of late,” he said, looking down at his worn clothing. “I was wondering if I might be able to…..well, do some chores for you in return for…..?”
“You’re hungry,” she asked, running a trembling hand through her graying, brown hair. “I…I can offer you a meal, I guess. For….for….”
“I can cut your wood for you,” the big man told her with a smile as he followed her glance around the ramshackle old place she had obviously had trouble keeping up of late.
“Do you….know how to cut wood,” she asked, eyeing the axe still in her other hand.
“I grew up on a farm in Kansas,” he told her with a smile. “I did my share of chores before I left.”
She handed him the ax, and stepped back. “I’ll…….I’ll get you something to eat while you’re working then,” she said quietly, and headed for the back door left open against the afternoon heat.
He felt her watching as he took the axe, and turned to the carelessly stacked half logs meant to be cut into wood. The fact there were only a few rows of wood left told him she had either been gone for a long time, or she had been struggling alone. He hefted the ax carefully, mindful of his solar-fueled strength, and began to chop at the log before him she had barely managed to nick.
He heard her turn away, and kept working, secretly using his heat vision at low strength to aid him since the axe was so obviously dull. He heard the woman in the kitchen, murmuring to herself, though to his ears, her voice was as clear as crystal.
She was lamenting the fact her phone had been cut off last week, and she couldn’t contact the sheriff. She was also telling herself she was being silly, and that the drifter outside was likely some harmless vagabond, not an escaped serial killer.
He smiled wryly at that, and kept working. He didn’t measure time. He didn’t need to when it came to that. At his current peak, he could work literally nonstop, and still hardly notice any appreciable loss in his reserves. What he needed was time, and a place to think without drawing unwanted attention. He had been careless earlier that day when he spotted a shirt that might fit him. It did, but the boy had spotted him, and his shouts had drawn a man who had gotten a very good look at him.
He flew off at subsonic speed, not wanting to cause any sonic booms, or draw any more attention from the powers-that-be, but now he was still left with unanswered questions, and no place to find answers. He needed to stop, and just think. He could use Bruce’s mind at a time like this, but he was no mental slouch himself when he focused his mind on a task despite is his reputation for being all brawn, and no brain. He just needed a little time.
“I have sandwiches and tea just now,” the woman told him as she came out, then froze, and stared at him in shock.
He stopped, looking back at her, and tried to smile reassuringly, but then he took in her astonishment. “How….? How did you cut so much wood,” she gasped, staring at the pile of firewood that had grown up before him in just under a few hours.
“Guess cutting wood is like a bicycle, ma’am,” he told her in what he hoped sounded like a comforting tone. “Once I got going, it just got easy.”
“My…..My husband couldn’t have cut that much on his best day,” Laura exclaimed, staring at the pile that now filled her shed, and was almost waist high, every log but one having been cut up.
“Well, ma’am, if you would prefer I left,” he suggested, not liking the way she was looking at him.
“No. No, of course not,” Laura shook her head, trying to tell herself she was being silly. After all, her husband had not been a farmer from birth. He had been an aging accountant trying to get away from the stress of city life. Only the stress of making a go out here had finally finished him off, leaving her with a piece of land she couldn’t sell, and little else.
“So, you mentioned food,” he asked her when she stood there staring at him, and the wood.
“Oh. Oh, of course. I……I guess you must have really worked up an appetite,” she said, and gestured toward the open kitchen door. “I’m a little short this month, so I made up some sandwiches, and a pitcher of tea.
“It’s nice and cold. The tea, I mean.”
“That’s fine, ma’am.”
“Oh, I’m……Laura. Laura Hastings,” she told him.
“Clark,” he told her automatically. “Clark…Wayne,” he amended a bit clumsily, not wanting to give his real name.
Bizarrely enough, he had finally found mention of himself, and his friends and family. In comic books, of all things. On this world, he was a fictional character in a child’s funny book. Somehow, he didn’t think calling himself Kent would go over too well with this woman that would be likely to know the character judging from the children’s pictures he spotted around the walls of the homey kitchen and dining combination room he entered behind her.
“Nice looking children, Mrs. Hastings,” he told her as he waited until she sat down at the table before he took a seat.
From the look of surprise on her face, she wasn’t expecting manners out of him.
“Thank you. They’re….grandchildren, actually. Nolan is the oldest now. Six years old.”
“I take it they don’t visit,” he asked as he poured tea from a stoneware pitcher into her glass before pouring his own. The table was small enough that he could easily reach across it with little effort.
“How do you know…..?”
“That wistful sound in your voice. It sounds like my mother’s when she tries not to lecture me about staying away for too long.”
“I guess mothers, or grandmothers, do miss their children.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” he nodded.
“Are you married, Clark?,” she asked him suddenly.
“Yet you’re out here….?”
“Wandering around? Well, it’s complicated, Mrs. Hastings. The fact is…..I’m a long way from home, and I’m not sure when I’ll be getting back.”
“Were you…..in prison?,” she asked a little anxiously.
“No,” he smiled, shaking his head as he bit into the first of the thick ham sandwiches she had made for them. She had put three on his plate, leaving only one for herself. A discreet glance around the kitchen with his x-ray vision told him she didn’t have much to spare at all. “I was…..I’ve been away,” he told her.
“Oh, you were in the war,” she nodded.
“The war. Yes, I guess you could say so,” he murmured.
“You don’t have to feel bad about it. My oldest son was in it, too. He came back a little…..off. It took years for him to settle down, and rebuild his life. I’m sure if you remember what is really important, you’ll be fine, too.”
“You’re certainly not afraid of hard work,” she smiled suddenly as she glanced out the open door. “That’s a good sign.”
“My father always told me that work was a good cure for worry. By the time you finished it, you likely would forget all about what was worrying you. Of course, he neglected to mention that on a farm the work never stopped, so you had lots of time to forget things.”
She smiled at his wry humor, nodding, “My husband found out about that. Only he never could turn loose of his worrying. It killed him in the end.”
“I’m sorry,” Clark frowned. “I didn’t realize….”
“It’s all right. You could hardly be expected to know I’m the local widow.”
“Well, I’d be more than glad to stay a little while and do some work for you,” he told her.
“To be honest, Clark,” she told him. “I’m living off charity myself. I don’t have much left to give you even if I wanted to take you up on your offer.”
He sat back, finishing his second sandwich, and then pushed the plate with the third away. He felt a little guilty about taking the last of her food when he didn’t really need it. “Mrs. Hastings….”
“Laura, please,” she told him with a faint smile. “I feel like…..
“You know, it’s strange, but you look oddly familiar.”
“Well, I can’t say how,” he told her, shaking his head again. “I’ve never been around here before.”
“I’m certain of that,” she smiled faintly again. “Still….
“Well, it hardly matters. You can sleep in the barn, if you want. But….I can’t offer you more than that just now,” she told him. “I almost wish I could, but…..”
She shrugged, and looked at the last sandwich before him. “I’m full,” he told her, catching her glance. “You make a good sandwich, though. Very filling.”
“I’ll…just wrap it up for you for breakfast,” she suggested.
“Well, I’ll go finish the woodpile,” he told her. “It’s only fair.”
“That’s all right,” she cut him off. “You have already done a lot more than I expected…..”
“It’s fine, Mrs. Hastings,” he told her. “I don’t mind work, as you noted, and to be frank, you could use some help.”
The older woman sighed, then nodded. “I would appreciate it. Mr. Peabody dragged the logs up here last week, but…..well, charity only goes so far even in this part of the country.”
“Maybe….I might just be able to help you out before I have to go,” he said as he rose, draining the tea before he turned toward the door.
“The wood is more than enough,” she told him again as he merely stepped outside, and glanced back to wave at her.
“What a strange man,” she murmured, and rose to clean up the kitchen after their meager meal.
Clark sat in the loft of the barn, pondering things late into the night.
The place was as bad as the house, and the rest of the small farm that had obviously been neglected for some time now. Laura Hastings was obviously in trouble, and wasn’t going to make it much longer the way she was going here. Not alone. He came looking for a temporary sanctuary in this world, and ended up finding someone in need of help.
Maybe it was his karma. His destiny, as a few of his more mystic-minded companions on his world would say.
He stood up, already aware of the pile of neglected building supplies in the back of the barn that had never been used. Her husband must have had grand plans. He lifted his hands, flexing them briefly, and decided he had been reacting long enough since waking in this world. It was time to act.
After all, it didn’t matter what dimension he had been dropped into, or how, or why. He was still the same man. He was still a hero.
And heroes didn’t turn their back on those in need.
“I’m telling you the truth,” the young boy told his parents. “I saw a flying man come out of the sky and steal dad’s shirt.”