Clark, In the Sky

by Jack Curtin

        He would dream tonight.

        In his dreams, he was perfectly normal. Ordinary. So many people would take offense at that word, he knew, and be appalled at a desire to be indistinguishable from the rest of humanity. But for him it was the stuff of wonder. His dreams were the fantasy that made his reality bearable.

        He didn't actually dream, of course, since he never slept. But when the need became too strong to be ignored, when the events of the day brought him to the edge of his sanity and drove to the surface buried desires to do unspeakable things, he lay down on the bed, closed his eyes and willed himself into a state that he believed approximated dreaming. And there, in his mind, he lived the life he never had. A simple, plain, oh-so-mundane life.

        He dreamed and, for a while, he was like everyone else.

        He dreamed not one life for himself but many, according to his needs of the moment. He imagined himself as young and old, sick and healthy, as someone different, and yet the same, each time. He knew love which was fulfilled or unrequited, lost or sacred. He was a small boy skipping happily across the lawn or an old man, bitter and lonely and dying all alone. He was the halfback who scored the winning touchdown and the batter who struck out with the winning run on base. He triumphed in business or staggered destitute on the streets.

        It wasn't glory that he sought, or even happiness. Indeed, the best dreams were more likely to be unhappy than not. Trying to feel the pain of an ordinary life was as important to him as knowing the pleasure. Perhaps more important. He of course knew the awful burden of his difference, which ate at his soul and threatened always to unleash the dark anger in his heart, but real pain, actual physical pain, as most people experienced it was alien to him. Pleasure was easy to understand, but to truly know the energy that defined humanity, he believed with all his heart that he had to comprehend pleasure's opposite. He had to know and understand the needs and impulses that arose out of life's bitterest possibilities.

        He had learned early on that he was not like everyone else. It was a message that his father repeated to him over and over, explaining slowly in his calm farmer's voice. In his memory, but never in his dreams, he saw himself on the front porch swing, small legs dangling while his father crouched in front of him, the two of them outlined against a star-filled Kansas sky. He concentrated on his father's voice, but his mother's sad eyes were what he watched as she stood behind her husband, gnawing at her lower lip.

        "You are different from the other boys, Son. You are special. That's a good thing, but it's also a strange and mysterious thing. People don't always like what is different. Sometimes they become angry, sometimes they become frightened, sometimes they just can't bear to allow anyone different from them to exist. You will have to be careful if you are going to find a way to live in this world. Your uniqueness gives you a wonderful opportunity to do things most of us can never hope to, but it may be that the only way you can do that and survive is to pretend not to be different at all."

        Somewhere a woman was screaming, drowning out the sound of his father's voice in his mind. Quickly, he scanned the city below him, telescopic vision sweeping buildings and streets and alleyways, super hearing attuned to the anguished wail that had caught his attention. There! A girl, no more than 16 or 17, pressed against the dirty brick wall of a desolate alleyway, a pair of hulking brutes pressing toward her, hands already reaching forward to rip and tear at her clothing. He turned in the air, his cloak flaring behind him, and began to descend, faster and faster until the air whistled around his hurtling figure which was, were there anyone to see, now nothing more than a colorful blur against the black night sky.

        He would save this girl, as he had saved thousands upon thousands of others like her over the years, plucking a falling plane from the sky, holding up a crumbling building until everyone had managed to get out, smothering bullets and bombs and weapons that seemed to grow more terrible and more dangerous with each passing year against his invulnerable body. He would swoop into the lives of the three people below him as he had into the lives of everyone from a small child whose kitten was trapped in a tree to a mad dictator about to press the button that might bring on Armageddon. And he would make things right.

        As the sound of his arrival struck them, the girl and her attackers turned their faces to the sky. He saw the awe and great relief that crossed hers, the fear and immediate resignation that darkened theirs. His every instinct was to destroy the two men, to literally obliterate them with the force of his speeding body. But he would not. That was the rest of his father's message, the other words that sounded forever in his memory. "You have been given great power and you must use it to do good. But you must use it wisely and well. It is not your place to change the nature of the world into which you have come, merely to try and make it a better place."

        He landed with surprising gentleness in front of the men and reached out to lift them effortlessly off the ground, one in each hand. It would be so easy to smash their heads together, to end their vicious lives once and for all. It would be so easy to bend the entire world to his will, to make it as it should be, as it could be. No one could stop him, no one could even challenge him.

        The urge was fleeting and then it was gone. Instead, he did what he always did, what was expected of him. Within minutes, the muggers were in police hands and the girl safely at home. Back in the night sky, he looked down on the city and thought again of the terrible things of which men were capable, and the great things as well. This was their world, their destiny. He walked among them but he was not one of them. It was his blessing and his curse.

        And he would dream tonight.

Copyright 1999 Jack Curtin

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