The Color of Madness
The rights to the characters of Smallville belong to its producers, the WB Network and DC Comics. I own them not.
It had seemed so clear at first. Red would be the badge of his freedom and the color of his destiny, allowing him to unleash his powers over the weak and helpless creatures of this small planet and do his father's bidding. Red would allow him to slip the bonds of emotion; the foolish constraints his foster parents had placed on him over the long years he'd been harbored by them. He had been betrayed, rejected; never truly loved or they would surely not have cast him out. They didn't really want him and so he would reject them in kind. Now he would follow the path set for him by his real father. On the third planet from the star Sol you will be a god among men...
Cast out, like Lucifer thrown down from Heaven for attempting to usurp God... No, no, that was the foolish superstition his human father had taught him; he was the god now and he could cast away his minions at will... A beautiful woman with long dark hair, bound by a band, appeared before him, beckoning, whispering his true name...Kal-E...I love you so...you are the last son... Kal-El of Krypton reached for the vision but she was gone, replaced by another...girl...long dark hair and sad eyes, crying as he deserted her...but she didn't love him, none of them did; he was just a thing they used when they needed help, when they wanted something. Kal-El, son of Jor-El, last in a line ten thousand years old, genius and nobility both, would no longer be at anyone's beck and call. He gasped and flipped on his side to face the wall, whimpering pitifully and sending a cockroach scurrying away, a trail of spittle clinging to his full red lips.
There was a loud roaring sound from above and wind in his face and Kal-El was high above the Earth. He heard a young boy's voice say, "You'll help a lot of people, Clark; promise me you won't give up..." Another voice said, "I promise..." but that was the weak voice, the frail coward's words and Kal-El of Krypton was no coward- They are a flawed race. Rule them with strength,* my son*... He screamed, "Yes, Father! Yes, Father!" Mom; I want my mom... but all he saw was a sad red haired woman crying through a window, lost in grief and she didn't look at him; she wouldn't look at him; no one would look at him except the man who tormented him...Kal-El...my son...it is time...
He sobbed out loud, huddled in the dark corner, as ghosts long buried and old memories repressed swirled around him. Long dark hair hung dirty and wild, framing a stubble covered face; he crawled back farther into the darkness and howled like an animal when his real father appeared before him again, exhorting Kal-El to begin his quest. Then it was the two of them, their dark hair bound by the marriage bands that were theirs alone to wear; he remembered that now. "We love you so much;* guide them my son*,* help them*, they need your strength..."
Now came another woman, old and infirm, hobbling on a cane until she turned to him, her eyes blank, her blindness apparent even to the gibbering madman before her. She poked at him with her cane and raised one gnarled finger, "You can fear your future or you can embrace it...I can see you in my visions...where there is only despair and suddenly you're there and there's hope again...fear it or embrace it...fear it or embrace it..." She stopped and peered at him more closely. "Can you hear me, Clark?" She reached toward him with one wrinkled hand and he skittered back, clutching his temples and screaming, drawing his knees up to his chest until he seemed no more than a small child afraid of the dark unknown.
The neon sign outside his room buzzed loudly in his sensitive ears, blinking hypnotically, like the lights on the midway at the Lowell County Fair. Peals of laughter and delight washed over him as his companions were thrown against him; squashing him into the far side of the scrambler as the g-forces took them all- a dark face covered with a pink sugary coating of cotton candy and a girl with hair the color of cornsilk screamed as she was crushed against the other boy, squealing again when she was thrown back into Clark.
He was being buffeted, tossed like a leaf, as fire framed the window of his bed...his bed was falling fast toward a big blue ball in the darkness and brilliant green rocks flew by outside, making him feel sick when they came too close. When he turned over he could see the ground coming up fast and he was up so high and he was so scared and then his bed hit hard and he cried out- Kal-El walked down a long dirt furrow until he came to a wrecked truck in which two people hung upside down. Bright red tulips were scattered everywhere inside; his earliest memory of the planet on which he now lived; he had thought it the color of love... They don't love you;* they use you*...soon they'll fear you...
Then he was so high up again on the ferris wheel, dangling and rocking back and forth and holding on to a metal bar with a grip like death itself. The entire world and his whole life seemed to stretch out before him and for an instant he was floating and free. And the cornsilk girl and the dark skinned boy were dragging him over to a tent to see a big green rock and then Clark was retching behind the fortuneteller's booth.
"Man, too much cotton candy!"
"No...Pete...it's Kryptonite...it's poison to me..."
"It's only a meteor rock! Aliens just can't handle their cotton candy!"
Sagging on all fours, he heaved until there was nothing left and his...friends...helped him up, half carrying him to a nearby bench. Where were his friends now? Weakling. You don't need humans. They are only your servants. Make them do your bidding. Make them fear you.
"I'm not your personal search engine! Do it yourself, Kal-El. You're the alien conqueror; can't you even use the computer?" The blond girl's eyes flashed with anger, now. "Too busy mooning over Lana to learn to hack like me. It's always just easier to use me, good `ole Chloe; just give her that charming Kent smile and flutter those beautiful lashes and she'll cave. She'll forgive you for anything, no matter how many times you let her down. How many people you love would be dead right now if I hadn't let you use me? I loved you but you were blind. I don't matter; none of us do, not even your precious Lana. You've abandoned us all." She peered more closely at his quivering form. "Are you sure it's your destiny to rule us? `Cause you don't look like you could rule anything right now. Maybe you're the court jester instead of the emperor and this is all a big mistake. I mean, are those the clothes of an emperor?"
"Chloe...I'm sorry, I didn't know...help me..." and he reached out for her hand. Bugs crawled over his skin under his ragged filthy clothes and he tore at them, stripping them off until he lay naked and exhausted. From the room below someone shouted and pounded on the ceiling.
"Let Lana help you. She's all you ever wanted. Let her be your crutch `cause I'm sick of it, sick of it, sick of it-"
Cornsilk girl lost all her hair and came close, looking into his eyes. "Did you know the Emperor has no clothes?" An impeccably dressed man leaned over him as he lifted his head. "Really, Clark. How can you possibly expect to rule the planet if you can't dress for the occasion? Haven't you learned anything from me? Do you think your father addressed the ruling council looking like a savage?" The man ran his hand over his bald head and said, "I've been judged on appearances all my life. I know. Where's that two thousand dollar coat? Thought you were hot when you wore it, didn't you? Clark Kent of Krypton...wanted to impress the girls." The man took a swig of water from a blue bottle and tapped him with a pool cue. "Care for a game of Snooker before you mount the throne?"
Clark screamed again and rolled away back into the corner, kicking at the wall with his huge feet. The pounding and shouting resumed from the room downstairs. Kal-El, my son...
"Shut-up! Shut-up! Shut-up!"
A TV blared loud from somewhere downstairs decrying the apparent loss of Lex and Helen Luthor, gone down in a plane crash over the ocean, presumed to have perished. The tall man leaned in close and whispered, "You've abandoned us, Clark. You could have saved us but now look at you...look at you...look at you...you can't even save yourself."
Hair sprouted from the naked head before him, growing long and dark and fanning out around the face like the mane of a lion. The man smiled and stroked his moustache as he looked more closely at Clark's face. "My, my, my, Clark...you're quite a sight. Who's upset you so? Was it your father? Jonathan always was an idiot. Wanting to keep you locked away; so afraid your light might outshine his own. Jor-El was an idiot, too. He waited too late; couldn't convince the council his race was doomed even when the towers were falling down around their ears. Well, no matter. Let me...help you...just tell me all about it and we'll make the pain go away...together. Did you know I've cloned a human being, Clark? I cloned Emily but she was flawed just like a human. I even cloned Helen. I'm going to clone Lex; he was flawed to begin with and of course, after the meteor shower..." Lionel ran a hand through his long locks, smiling, "well...I'll remake him in my image, this time. But you're already perfect, aren't you? So very beautiful...the Greeks would have worshipped a being like you. We could rule together, side by side, you and I. I could even clone you...give you a brother, like you've always wanted..."
"I'm gonna have a brother," he choked out; "my mom's-"
"No, no...no, I'm afraid you've killed your little brother, Clark. So careless, that. Martha and Jonathan will never understand...but I do. These things happen. It's of no importance; the baby wasn't perfect, like you." He leaned so close, Clark thought he could smell brandy on his breath. "You belong in my family, Clark, not with mere farmers." He held out his hands, palms outward, as if to ward off the coming denial. "Now, I know they did their best but there are...limits...to what the commoners can provide. They lack the resources, the...vision that a boy, no, a man, like yourself, needs."
He leaned even closer and slowly ran his finger over Clark's rough cheek. "You could be the son I never had, flawless, perfect...a god among men..."
"I don't wanna be a god," he sobbed. It is time, Kal-El...another scream echoed down the stairwell.
Jonathan Kent stood next to the fence post on which his young son was now perched. "Don't worry about it, son; just a fly in the ointment. It'll work out."
"Can I drive the tractor, Dad?" Clark jumped onto the tractor seat and grabbed the steering wheel, turning it back and forth as he pretended to drive. Jonathan couldn't help but smile; his small boy would tackle anything.
"Well, you're a little young to drive, son..."
"I rode the bull!" His little face lit up at the memory and Jonathan winced in recollection.
"But you weren't supposed to! Now, Clark...tell you what; I'll drive and you can sit in my lap and practice. Come on..."
Clark sat thinking, still for a few rare moments in Jonathan's lap as his dad aimed the old John Deere down the furrows. "Mom says I'm precocious."
Laughing, Jonathan agreed. "Your mom's right."
Everything was perfect, the sun shining, the wind in his hair, the sound of the tractor; a comforting reminder of a simpler time. "What are we planting?"
"That's hard work, isn't it Dad?"
"Yes, Clark, it is. But we'll be glad when harvest time comes. Always remember, you reap what you sow."
Clark jumped down and ran off across the field, yelling, "I gotta go! Chloe's here!"
When he got to the barn she was looking inside. Chloe turned to him, in her big army boots, admiring the tall farmboy in flannel and asked, "Do you have electricity?" She ran up the stairs to the loft and he followed. Abruptly, she turned and kissed him. "Thought we'd get that out of the way so we could just be friends."
"But...what if I want to be more..."
"Then stop playing with your telescope and move on."
Clark stared out the loft window into his father's fields where the rows of cornstalks spread out like an army on the march across the dark Kansas soil. But the cornstalks paled, bleached white by the hot sun and turned to rows of tombstones stretching on forever and he cried out when he saw everyone he ever knew was there. Except Lex...but then Lex was everywhere in his elegant suit, white like the tombstones with one blood red rose in his lapel...rows and rows of him, hundreds of him, thousands of him, one after the other, out to the far horizon and down through time...
"No, Clark, it's Chloe. Try to focus, here."
"Chloe...help me...don't abandon me...don't...forsake me."
"But you abandoned me...you abandoned all of us."
"Chloe, I'll try again; I'll do better...please...give me another chance..."
"Sorry Clark. You reap what you sow."
For years, Walter Newman had eked out a living purveying cheap rooms in a fleabag hotel to the absolute dregs of society. The old building sat on a narrow dead end street near the waterfront on Hobs' Bay in the notorious Suicide Slum area of the great city of Metropolis. In its heyday, it had been a fine hotel, owned by the illustrious Hobs family whose wealth and stature had so influenced the state of Kansas early in its history. From their humble beginnings in the tiny town of Smallville, to the south, the Hobs had quickly become a major force in the economic and political life of early Kansas and their name could still be found in many places, a testament to their former glory. But the family had fallen on hard times, their star eclipsed by another, more ruthless family until at last, there was no one left to carry on the once proud name. When the sole remaining member of the Hobs clan had finally succumbed to age and infirmity, heirless and alone, a lawyer had contacted Walter, who'd had the good fortune to be a very distant relative, in fact, the only relative, that anyone could find and so he'd inherited the old hotel, fancying himself a member of the landed gentry, at last.
But the old building had long since fallen into disrepair and Walter Newman often wondered if being a property owner was really all that great. As he sat here on the ground floor of the seedy hotel, behind what passed for the front desk, trying to calm his tenants, he wished he's never laid eyes on the place. A crowd had gathered, all complaining about the same thing: the lunatic on the top floor who screamed and cried and pounded on the walls, day and night. Walter wished he'd moved to sunny southern California when he'd had the chance.
People came here when there was no place else to go and nothing left to lose. He'd seen it all and tolerated most of it for the right price but when he'd first laid eyes on the kid, the hair on the back of his neck stood straight up and a niggling little voice had whispered: Don't let him in. He's trouble. He's dangerous. And he'd looked it, too. At first he'd thought him a mere boy, runaway, probably, but then he saw the eyes. Angry, defiant, resentful and...old...so old to be in a face so young. In that moment, he'd been afraid to say no and had let him pass to the smallest, cheapest room on the uppermost floor. That had been two days ago and now his dirty little hotel and all its denizens were in an uproar, the like of which he'd never encountered in all his years.
He'd seen him once in the hallway from the lower landing, crawling up the stairs on his hands and knees, drooling and mumbling to himself in a strange language that Walter, who thought he'd heard every language of the Earth on the rough docks of Metropolis, had never heard before. When the boy had wailed out the strange words, high and piteously as he'd reached the top of the stairs, it had given Walter cold chills; it had been...unearthly. Kid must have one hell of a habit to be so bad off at his age. When he'd gotten louder, Walter had made a foray onto the top floor, along with Elmore, one of his old cronies from the docks, himself a huge bruiser and afraid of nothing. Walter had stood outside the kid's door and asked him to keep it down. The sound of furniture being smashed prompted Walter to yell, "Ya gotta stop that, man." There was silence for a moment then a low keening sound that built to a crescendo and another piece of furniture hit the door. Elmore stepped up and banged loudly on the door.
This time the silence was fleeting as the man inside screamed out, "My father says I'm a god!"
Walter's buddy banged on the door again, "Yeah, whatever. Just shut the hell up and stop breaking stuff or I'm gonna-" The door flew open, startling them; they both backed up as the wild man appeared but he grabbed Elmore in a flash and hurled him against the far wall. One look at the madman's eyes and the two men beat a hasty retreat. They both swore later that his eyes had looked like they were glowing red.
Now, even the whores were complaining. Several of their clients had fled when they'd heard the commotion upstairs, afraid of attracting the wrong kind of attention from the police or just plain afraid. Walter thought it unlikely any police officers would venture into Suicide Slum unless they had a very good reason and he didn't think this would really qualify. Just another punk kid twisted and sick from drugs. He tried to push away the uncomfortable memory of two glowing eyes framed by the wild face of madness. What kinda drugs did that to ya?
They all wanted one thing: they wanted Walter to rid them of the demented troublemaker on the top floor. He'd have to do it alone. Elmore had fled, too, refusing to come back. That alone frightened Walter almost as much as anything. He got up and went to the old safe in back and hauled out his sawed off shotgun. He loaded it, pocketing some extra shells just in case. He was shaking as he started up the stairs. Behind him, another news report announced that wreckage had been spotted near the last known location of the Luthorcorp jet which had apparently taken the Luthor heir and his new bride to their deaths. Above him, the screaming was getting louder.
In the squalid little room on the top floor, Kal-El banged his head on the hard wood floor over and over, trying to make the voices stop. The scar on his chest, seared there by his real father, branding him with the mark of his ancestors, his family's ancient crest, hurt when his father yelled at him. You must begin your quest Kal-El. It is time...it is time...it is time... Tonight, it throbbed and pulsed in time to the beating of his heart, glowing from within, like the little alien in the movie Chloe loved. I wish I'd never phoned home. He giggled insanely, trying to blot out the sound of his father's words.
Clark smashed the window with his fist and collapsed back to the floor beside it, sobbing as he lay in the broken shards of glass. A white wolf sat on the window sill in front of the bleeding moon. Blood dripped down the wall, pooling next to his head. A soft voice whispered, "Naman...Naman...all is not lost... Some gods are false, Naman..." The wolf jumped down from the window, its nails clicking on the cheap tile floor as it came close. It lay down next to him, it's face more human than wolf. Clark reached out to touch the creature and his hand came away wet with blood.
"Kyla..." he whispered but she was gone and he was all alone. Clark Kent sat up, leaning heavily against the wall, inhaling the damp night air through the shattered window. He reached for his jeans and struggled into them then moved to root under the sagging metal frame of the bed for his boots. It was all he could do to get them on before he had to lay back, panting, on the dirty floor. Kal-El,* it is time*... "Shut up! I don't want to listen anymore! Leave me alone!" He was screaming now and the single bare bulb that hung from the ceiling shattered with the force of it.
Outside, Walter Newman edged his way up to the door of the screaming man's room. Inside, he heard something shatter and another piece of furniture hit the wall. He gripped his shotgun tighter and with a shaking fist, knocked on the door. "It's Walter Newman, the manager-" Walter thought he smelled smoke. "Okay, buddy, you're..." he gulped, dry mouthed, "you're gonna have ta go. I don't want no trouble; ya can just leave; ya don't owe me nothin,' just go." Silence. He exhaled; he hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath. The minutes ticked by and Walter thought, uneasily, he might have to go inside, after all. Then the keening started up again and the guy was screaming in his strange tongue; Walter's blood had turned to ice.
He brought his shotgun up and reached for the door knob, pulling his hand back at the last moment when he saw the knob was glowing red. He heard a crackling noise from inside and smoke started to trickle out from under the door. "Jesus! Okay, man, get out of there-" Walter leveled his gun and kicked at the door. When it flew open, one inner wall was smoking, a strange symbol burning like a brand in the middle of it. Walter ducked and bright lines of flame burst out on the wall behind him wherever the madman turned his gaze.
Walter backed up, terrified, as the man came toward him. He was wearing a leather jacket but no shirt and Walter stared at the horrible scar the man carried on his broad chest. It burned like the symbol on the wall; had he branded himself like an animal? Jesus! No wonder he'd been screaming... "Get back! Don't make me use this!" But the man kept coming and Walter backed away until he felt the stair railing behind him and with nowhere else to go he fired at him, point blank, both barrels. The man didn't even flinch. He grabbed the shotgun out of his hand and Walter toppled backward over the railing.
It wasn't like he'd always heard it would be; the regrets and sorrows of his life didn't flash before him, spread out for his review, one last time before it ended. Instead, Walter Newman simply hung suspended in the air five flights up from the death that awaited him as though time itself had stopped. Gradually, he raised his eyes from the ground floor far below and looked into the large green eyes of the man who held him easily, with one hand, as though he weighed no more than a feather. A large red ring adorned the hand that held him, glowing just like his eyes had been only a moment ago.
The man lifted him back up and over the railing, setting him down gently against the wall, whispering, "I'm sorry." He turned and quickly extinguished the fires with his bare hands and stumbled back into his room. He fell to the floor, one arm smashing a hole in the wall next to the broken window. For a moment, he laid there, his eyes pulsing red.
Walter peeked around the doorway to see his savior whimpering once again like a beaten dog. Gratitude and fear warred in his heart as he tried to decide whether to get any closer or flee as far and as fast as he could. Whoever or whatever this guy was, he wasn't human; that was sure. Maybe he's one `o them, whatdayacallem,* meta*-humans people was startin'* to talk about*. Maybe he was a demon sent to take Walter Newman straight to Hell for his misspent life. Or, maybe, Satan himself had cast this man out, deeming him too much trouble even for the Prince of Darkness. As Walter watched, frozen in terror, the man inside the tiny room stood, sagging against the wall until he hung out the shattered remains of his window, weaving slightly as he stared out. He glanced back at Walter, one last time with his fearsome, terrible eyes then grabbed a pack up off the floor and leaped out the window and was gone.
"Oh, man!" Walter got up and staggered over to the window, wincing as he leaned out to see the bloody gore he knew awaited him on the sidewalk below. But there was nothing there; no broken body or pool of blood to mark his passing; only a cry of anguish fading into the night. Farther up the hill where Bassolo Boulevard crossed the narrow side street, leading on to parts of the city not hobbled by the wretched poverty found here in the slums, he saw a man on a motorcycle, illuminated by the faltering neon of the corner bar as he sat, revving the engine. As Walter watched, the man began to scream at the top of his lungs as he rode away.
Kal-El, last survivor of the late, great planet Krypton, flawless perfection incarnate and god among men, bayed at the moon like a dog gone mad. The harsh, flickering neon of a broken sign cast its surreal glow onto the putative future ruler of this small blue planet in a quiet galactic backwater, millions of lightyears away from his long lost home. As he fled into the darkness, the red ring he wore seemed to flicker, growing bright then dimming, like the waxing and waning of the moon Wegthor; no...no...that was one of Krypton's moons, long gone, too; destroyed by the same cataclysm that had eventually shattered Krypton itself. This planet had only one moon...and tonight it seemed to bleed red in the night sky...glowing like the red sun of Krypton glowed...but that was just the neon...and the Kryptonese race, in all its glory and inordinate pride, was long dead.
Kal-El,* my son*...it is time...
He had thought the red ring would be his salvation, freeing him from the burdens he carried, allowing him to abandon those he cared for and thereby save them all. Red would be the color of his release.
But it was not.
Red had become the color of his madness.
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