From the author: On his tenth birthday, Clark fell from the butte overlooking Highway 7. What happened next surprised everyone. His parents cautioned him to hide his secret, which he did despite the many stories we've read that report a different outcome.
On his tenth birthday, Clark fell from the butte overlooking Highway 7. The highway to Leavenworth. Ironic if you think of it. The road from Luthor Falls led to prison. Only two lanes. Lanes so narrow that drivers veered to their left to avoid a collision. K-7 wound through the three blocks downtown, the farms, the groves, past the falls, past the Luthor’s mill and straight to the penitentiary.
A real prison, not the prison of farm life, chores, school, more chores and church on Sunday. A prison that bound Clark to his life the way that gravity binds us to the planet. Kids called Luthor Falls “Smallville.”
Not a joke.
He fell by accident. A birthday picnic. Clark and his parents at the park by the falls donated courtesy of Luthor Mill, whose shadow shrouded the town. His father sent him for a pass which sailed above his head. Clark leaped. Seven feet. His fingers grazed the pigskin and when it soared past, he tumbled over the ledge and barreled toward the pavement like a barge filled with bricks.
Instead of pummeling into the concrete and breaking every bone, Clark straightened and floated on a pillow of air. He stretched his arms, caught the wind and soared toward the sun. Higher and higher. Unlike Icarus, whose wax wings melted from the heat, Clark had no wings and he rose above the clouds, penetrated the ozone and turned to look at the earth floating beneath him.
When he landed on the picnic blanket with no force, no disturbance, not even a shift in the wind, his mother snatched his wrist and pulled him to the car. His father gathered the basket and leftovers in a panic.
First the recriminations: Never, never do that again. If someone sees you, they’ll take you away.
His parents never said who they were. Not knowing scared Clark even more.
After the recriminations came the explanation. You’re not from here. Not Kansas. Not America. Not earth.
Clark understood. He remembered what happened to the Negro family that tried to buy the abandoned Miller farm. Marv Kindler showed up at their door wearing white robes, demanded his father join them. His mother hefted the shotgun while they talked.
“I’m not climbing into your compost,” his father said and slammed the door.
The next day they cut the noose and lowered the Negro father’s body from the Miller’s crumbling porch.
Some nights, most often in summer, when the smell of feed and manure smothered him, Clark took flight. Each time, his father heard a new rumor of Luthor Fall’s “ghost hawk.” He’d storm home. “One day they’ll come for you, and we can’t help.”
Punishing Clark did no good. When you’re trapped, you fly.
In the big war Clark routed two armored divisions and destroyed a German airfield. German pilots spoke with fear of a flying man who ripped off wings. Legends spread. A “super man” fought for the allies. Many times he considered admitting his role in the conflict, but he’d seen how the army treated the Irish and Italian volunteers.
In New York, he broke up a bank heist. Six policemen wrestled him to the pavement, cuffed him and carted him in jail. He bent the bars and slipped out while the guard slept. The Morning Post ran a story on a “super-powered being who escaped custody.” Only in the last paragraph did the story acknowledge that he stopped the robbery. He never helped the police again.
He stayed home during World War II and the little wars that followed. The only superheroes fought on comic book pages.
On moonless nights he took to the skies. In 1929 a passenger plane lost in a storm emerged from the clouds. The wheels cut a part in his hair. The papers reported a near collision with “a mysterious flying object.” In 1942 a fighter tried to shoot him from the sky. It happened again in the fifties and sixties.
Lois never understood his vanishing acts, or the mornings when he turned up with his hair ruffled by the strong wind. “If you weren’t so upright, I’d think you have a hooker on the side,” she’d say. That and, “a man with your looks and muscle shouldn’t spend his days behind a desk. You could make us rich as a movie star.” She died of lung cancer in 1963. Two packs a day.
He never saw a doctor.
Their son Jonathon bought every issue of Superman comics. “Wouldn’t it be neat if I could fly?” he said time and time again.
Clark hugged his son. “Better than a dream.” Clark longed for Jonathon to find flight but his son remained earthbound, flight being a recessive gene.
In 2005, when Jonathon was eighty, three weeks before his death, Clark sneaked into his nursing home and flew him to Chicago and back. “You remind me of my dad,” he said. “I saw him fly one night when I was just a boy.”
It didn’t matter what Jonathon babbled in the morning. The staff would write it off as dementia.
Clark still reports. Under several names. He discovered new tricks, different techniques. He drives to an airport and tucks his body under wings to avoid detection. He learned how to fly under the radar and avoid satellite surveillance. His bylines scatter the globe: The Middle East, North Korea, Pakistan, and Tibet.
Clark writes history too. He’s best known as Carter Northwood, author of aviation histories. Readers say he writes as though he understands flight the way an eagle might, and not a pilot sealed within a metal cage.
He wishes he could fly in moonless skies as he did as a boy. But moonless nights matter little when city lights penetrate the skies for miles. As the wilderness recedes, so does his cover. He hugs the ground, a bird with clipped wings, no longer soaring past the ozone. Nor does he want to. He hates weaving through discarded satellites and debris.
Clark considers coming out. He wonders, what if I could help the world become a better place? Then he looks at our chosen leaders and dreams of a homeworld he never knew.
This story originally appeared in Icons, June 2018.