Superman: Civil Rites

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#7 - “The Cleansing”

By David Marshall

The Luthor Mansion

Lex Luthor slipped inside the family mansion and removed his shoes. He didn’t want to draw attention to his disheveled state after he suffered a beating at the hands of a couple of Klansmen he hired to prove to Lana Lang that he could “protect” her. They turned on him once they discovered she was black and nearly beat him to death then attempted to scalp him. The attack left his head a patchwork of bloody baldness and spotty tufts of red hair. During the confrontation he learned his father was the Imperial Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. If not for the flying colored boy who knows how far their rage would have taken them?

“Lex, would you come in here please?” his father called from his study in the main hall.

Lex cringed. He certainly didn’t want his father to see his sorry state. “I have to run to the bathroom. I’ll be back down in a minute!”

“Now son!” Lionel Luthor bellowed.

Lex took a deep breath and limped into the study. His father was seated behind his ornate, mahogany desk. Two men were seated in the chairs opposite the desk but Lex couldn’t see them. He assumed they were lawyers, his father’s usual companions during such meetings.

“You wished to see me?” Lex asked.

Lionel Luthor pushed his leather chair away from his desk and made a beeline toward Lex. “Look at you, son! You’re a mess!”

Lex smiled. “I was playing rugby with some guys I met in town.”

His father eyed him suspiciously. “Were you now? Rugby in Smallville?”

It wasn’t even a good lie. “Yes sir,” Lex replied. “We Luthors are athletes, you know!”

“Yes, we are,” Lionel replied. “But even we Luthors have our limits son.”

Lex wasn’t sure where the conversation was headed but didn’t like the tone.. “Sir?”

“For example, being in two places at once,” Lionel answered. “I would deem such a feat impossible even for a Luthor. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Lex felt his collar growing warm. “Yes sir. I don’t…”

“Then how is it Marty and Eugene saw you cavorting in a field with a Negro girl earlier today?” Lionel screamed. “I also have pictures of you flirting with her in downtown Smallville.”

“Me?” Lex stammered. “I’m sure it was someone else. I hope they strung the misogynist pig up from the nearest tree!”

Lionel backhanded Lex across the face. “Don’t get insolent with me you bald ape-loving disappointment! That’s what they should have done! Unfortunately the damned flying boy intervened! Turn around and show yourselves gentlemen!”

The chairs facing Lionel’s desk swiveled to face Lex. The men who attacked him earlier were still dressed in their robes but their hoods were missing.

“The hoods were an improvement,” Lex mocked.

Lionel cocked his hand again but this time Lex caught it in mid-swing.

“Never again, old man!” Lex shook his head as he hissed through clinched teeth. He spat blood on the granite floor between his father’s Italian loafers. “See that? That’s the last time you ever draw blood from me! Raise your hand against me again and I’ll kill you in cold blood you son of a bitch!”

Lionel’s goons rose to assist him but he waved them away with his free hand. “You have no idea who and what you’re messing with boy!”

“Likewise,” Lex replied. “Are you finished?”

“I’ve just begun to fight,” Lionel shot back. He jerked free of Lex’s grip.

Lex didn’t look back as he left the room. “Do your worst old man!”

“Oh I will son!” Lionel called after him. “You can bet you’ll see my worst!”

Lex stormed out of the study and made his way upstairs to his room. He locked the door behind him and fell to his knees. He burst into tears and pounded his head with his fists but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t beat the Luthor out of himself.

At last Lex calmed down and walked into his bathroom. The faucet handles creaked when he turned them. He caught the running water in his hands and washed the blood from his scalp and hair. He looked a frightful mess in the mirror. With one angry motion he grabbed his shaving cream and razor from the back of the sink and lathered the soapy foam into his hair. He lifted the razor to his skin and cut the first swath across his head. It hurt his wounds but the feeling of control was intoxicating! Watching his copper locks drop into the sink, he felt free of the Luthor burden for the first time in his life. “So it’s a war you want, Father? Then a war you shall have! And only one of us will make it our alive and I don’t particularly care which one as long as I hurt you!”

At Church

Clark Kent loved his parents’ church. Despite its age the building still smelled new and it didn’t take super-senses to notice. The women in the congregation cleaned it every week and the men enjoyed the occasional work day to tackle projects and keep the grass mowed. Their pride was evident in every nook and cranny of the building and its grounds.

The morning singing was intoxicating despite Ms. Jefferson’s off-key caterwauling along with the choir. “I’ll Fly Away” never sounded so good to Clark’s ears. His mother’s piano playing backed the vocal group and sounded like the very harps of heaven.

Once the music stopped, Jonathan Kent stepped behind the small, wooden pulpit at the center of the stage. He laid his Bible on the pulpit and opened it. “The Apostle Paul in writing to the Ephesians said, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”

“Our community has been devastated time and again by oppressors. I doubt there’s a soul in this church who hasn’t been touched by the crushing boot heel of hatred. So why do I preach forgiveness, saints of God?”

Clark knew where his father was headed with his sermon. It was a theme he was forced to preach all too often. The particular verses changed occasionally but the message stayed the same.

“Why should we answer malice with kindness? Why should we keep our hearts tender to one another? Because we have been forgiven ourselves! Victimhood is easy! But forgiveness – that takes courage!”

“Amen!” the church answered in unison.

“Come on, preacher!” added Buck Townes, one of the church deacons who worked with Clark’s father for many years. A large, portly man he felt it his calling was to encourage and he was consistent with his gift, if not eloquent.

“Playwright and religious writer, Hannah More said, “Forgiveness is the economy of the heart. Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits,” Clark’s father added. “You see, you can fill your heart with the bitterness and wrath Paul spoke of to the church at Ephesus or you can practice the economical method he espoused in verse thirty-two and that Ms. Moore spoke of so eloquently. Forgiveness is strength! Repeat that after me, church. Forgiveness is strength!”

“Forgiveness is strength,” the church echoed.

Clark’s father continued. “When we forgive we empty ourselves of hatred and bitterness and allow grace to fill our souls. We can hold onto the beatings, the rapes, and even the murders of our friends and loved ones and allow ourselves to be filled with hatred or we can empty ourselves of that burden! If I fill a glass to the top with rattlesnake venom and then decide I want milk to drink instead, I can’t add milk or I’ll make a mess on the table. But if I empty the glass first and then add milk, I can spare myself the mess. We’re the glass, church. It’s up to us to decide what we fill ourselves with – milk or poison! Retribution is the poison. It’s only in letting go of the situation that we can drink the milk!”

For whatever reason, the sermon touched a nerve in Clark’s heart. Was he filled with poison? How did one empty himself as his father suggested? Many would say Clark’s powers were god-like. His thoughts drifted to the pantheon of mythological gods in Ancient Greece and Rome. Though he didn’t believe the ancient tales, their stories were ripe with malevolent, conniving gods who often toyed with mankind simply because their power was superior. What was that saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely? Clark didn’t want to be that kind of person. Perhaps humility could inspire others to greatness more so than raw power.

There was no angelic choir. No radiant beams from heaven shone down upon his head, but Clark made a decision at that moment to walk the road of humility. It was a higher road he believed would lead to a higher destination. He shuddered to think what kind of monster awaited him if he chose the other road.

After the service, his mother announced that she was going to join Ms. Jefferson and Ms. Jacobs at the Jefferson place and that she would be home later to cook for them. Clark’s stomach wasn’t happy but he and his father piled into the family’s old truck and headed home. His father turned on the AM radio and found some old-fashioned gospel singing on a station out of Hattiesburg.

“Do you ever get tired of preaching about forgiveness?” Clark asked. “It’s the same thing every week.”

His father shook his head. “Not when I’ve been forgiven so much son.”

The admission surprised Clark. He had never considered his father as someone who needed forgiveness. He wrung his hands. “I made a decision this morning.”

Clark’s father turned off the radio. “That sounds serious son.”

Clark nodded. “It is. I don’t want to be full of venom. I just don’t know how to forgive. How do I overlook what Luthor did to the Jacobs family or what happened to that poor man who was lynched recently? And what the Klan did to Perry? I could go on and on.”

His father nodded. “Yes, you could and I could tell you stories from way back that would make you want to sleep with one eye open. The Klan attacks to demonstrate their power but that kind of power is built on upon fear, not respect. The good book says perfect love casts out fear. It’s a spiritual tug of war, son. The Klan does their best to pull our people into the muddy hole in the middle. But when we choose to forgive, it’s like letting go of the rope. They fall backward and we’re left standing. So the question isn’t how can we forgive, but rather how can we not?”

“But how do I let go of the rope?” Clark asked.

His father smiled. “By refusing to play their game, son. Do your best to protect the innocent but don’t answer tit for tat.”

“Kind of like breaking the cycle?” Clark asked.

His father nodded. “Now you’re getting it son.”

Later the Same Night

It started with a scream as Clark flew over the Samuels’ barn. To his sensitive ears the shrill, female cry blared like a warning siren. With a burst of super speed Clark circled the barn and turned back toward the Samuels’ farmhouse. What he saw turned his stomach. A towering cross of notched logs burned in front of the Samuels’ modest shack while hooded Klansmen chanted and rounded up the young family.

Mr. Samuels did his best to fight off the masked men threatening his family. They surrounded him and wrestled him to the ground. He tried his best to protect himself while keeping an eye on his family between blows.

“Please stop this!” Mr. Samuels begged. “We ain’t done nothing to hurt you!”

The Klan’s only answer was to continue the savage beating. Once he collapsed to the ground they kicked him with such force their blows lifted him off the ground.

“Josiah!” Mrs. Samuels shouted as she fended off two Klansmen with a broomstick. Her first swing found its mark across the face of one but he was grabbed onto it before she could land another blow. While they wrestled for control of the makeshift weapon another Klansman tackled her to the ground.

“I think we’ve got us a fighter, boys!” her attacker shouted. “You like this big, strong white man on top of you, don’t you honey? Ever been with a man that doesn’t smell like a dirty…”

Mrs. Samuels freed her right hand long enough to slap her attacker before he could finish demeaning her husband.

Her attacker punched her in the face. “You’ll never strike another white man again, woman! I’ll kill you for that!”

Klansmen chased the Samuels children around the yard. A sinister hooded figure closed in on the youngest, the one they called Millie, and hoisted her into his arms. She was only four years old and looked terrified. Her attacker laughed sinisterly as she struggled against his grip.

“I bet your folks told you the boogeyman wasn’t real. Didn’t they little girl?”

“Mommy! Daddy!” Millie wailed.

Millie’s oldest brother Irvin who was a little younger than Clark came to his sister’s rescue. While running from another Klansman he tackled the man holding his sister, knocking them both to the ground. The Klansman dropped his sister.

“Run, Millie!” Irvin shouted as Klansmen gathered around him and started beating him like the others were beating his father.

Clark had seen enough. He flew into the midst of the Klansmen attacking Irvin and tried his best not to kill them. Hours earlier he told his father he made a decision to practice forgiveness. It was much easier to do in truck on the way home from church than in the face of evil. He grabbed a hooded man and tossed him aside like chucking firewood. The man landed several yards away.

“What the…” asked another Klansman who watched his compatriot go flying.

Clark gave him no time to gain his bearings. He felt the man’s jaw break beneath the blow of his right fist. He couldn’t kill them but it was his pleasure to make them wish they were dead.

“It’s that demon!” shouted one of the Klansmen. As one, the Klan turned their attention to Clark.

“No demon,” Clark shouted back. “Just a boy! Or make that a Super-boy to you!”

“You dare say you’re better than us, boy?” one of the Klansmen shouted. “We’re going to find out just how super you really are!”

Thankfully the Klan’s reign of terror was abated by Clark’s timely entrance. He hoped it would give the Samuels family a chance. “Run!” he shouted to them as his cape floated majestically behind him in the night breeze. “I’ll take out the trash!”

Clark plowed into the unsuspecting Klan like a bowling ball into the pins at the end of the lane. None were standing when he was finished.

The Samuels rushed to thank Clark.

“Are you okay?” Clark asked.

“A little sore and scared, but we’ll live,” said Mr. Samuels. “Thank you, whoever you are.”

“You can call me… Superboy and there’s no need to thank me,” Clark replied. “I’m just doing my job.”

Clark’s super-hearing picked up another cry for help. “Excuse me. It looks like it’s going to be a busy night.”

Clark rose into the air and couldn’t believe his eyes. Fires burned everywhere, mostly from crosses on people’s front lawns. Particularly disturbing was the inferno spreading through the woods behind the Conley House. The wind blew it eastward, threatening the Morgan Mills neighborhood. Bad guys he could handle but forest fires were a different story. Then he got an idea.

First he swooped down at super speed and dug a trench around the wooded perimeter to establish a fire line. Then he raced to town and circled the water tower. Flying underneath the massive tank, he pushed against it carefully. The last thing he wanted to do was push right through it. Finally he exerted enough pressure that the bolts and welds that held the tank into place broke free.

Clark hoisted the tank into the air and returned to the massive fire. It was still confined to the wooded area behind the small community but spreading rapidly. Tipping the tank over, Clark crisscrossed the woods. Steam hissed up at him like an angry den of snakes while angry Klansmen took potshots at him from below. Once the tower was empty he raced to the reservoir and returned with another load of water. He repeated this until the fire was under control.

Then he turned his attention to those who set the fire.

“You want fire?” Clark asked. “I’ll show you fire!”

A burst of heat vision shot from Clark’s eyes and ignited the ground around the Klansmen. Clark rose into the air and trapped his foes behind the blaze line. Another trip to the reservoir filled the water tower before returning it to its proper resting place. A burst of heat vision welded it back into place.

There was no time to count victories. Fires continued to spread all over the southern part of the county. Clark did all that he could. Again and again he rushed into the midst of his people’s worst nightmares.

Clark swooped from the skies to handle a shootout between the Klan and a family Clark didn’t know very well. They were the new family who moved into the old Johnson place. He had to give the man of the house credit. He was a good shot! Three Klansmen were sprawled out on the ground with their white sheets stained red.

“That’s enough shooting for one night!” Clark yelled into the night.

Both the Klan and the new neighbor unloaded their barrels on him. One by one their guns stopped firing as the shooters realized the bullets ricocheted off Clark’s invulnerable body.

“What the hell are you, boy?” asked one of the Klansmen.

“I can protect my own family!” yelled the new neighbor.

Clark turned to the new resident first. “Trust me, please! I can bring this to a peaceful end without more killing.”

“Maybe you should listen to him, Nat!” said a woman Clark assumed was the man’s wife.

“Get him!” one of the Klansmen shouted. In unison they raced from their positions toward Clark.

As fun as it was to throw the Klan around like ragdolls, time was short. There was so much work to do and every second mattered. Rather than round up the Klansmen individually, Clark waited for them to come to him. Once they were upon him Clark twirled like a human tornado. The Klan flew in every direction.

Clark checked on the men beneath the sheets. Satisfied they were no longer a threat to the new neighbors he took to the skies once more as the family came out of hiding.

“Who was that?” a child asked.

“An angel,” the wife exclaimed.

From his vantage point high above Smallville, Clark could see that even more fires were burning than before. He was making no headway. As much as he liked to think he would treat everyone the same, his thoughts raced to the place nearest his heart – home.

A sickened feeling gripped Clark’s stomach as he zeroed in on his own family’s home. It was ablaze like the others. His super-hearing picked up the rest.

“You’re the one stirring folks up,” spat a hooded man who grabbed Clark’s father by the collar. “You fill these barbarians with faith and hope? What kind of hope do you think they have tonight? Where is your God now, old man?”

“Lord forgive them for they know not what they do,” Clark’s father whispered.

The Klansman threw Clark’s father to the ground and a mob of hooded and robed figures attacked him.

“Jonathan! No, don’t hurt him!” Clark’s mother tried to run to him but someone tackled her from behind and wrestled her to the ground. Her attacker grabbed her by the hair and slammed her face into the ground. “What’s wrong old woman? Don’t want to watch your broken-down excuse of an ape husband suffer?”

“God have mercy on your souls,” Clark’s mother whispered in reply. “Clark where are you?”

For once the Klan really picked the wrong victims! All the anger Clark’s parents warned him about boiled like Vesuvius and rushed to the surface to erupt.

It took about a third of a second to reach his home and land in the front yard. The Klan was surprised to see him but had little time to react. Clark’s first order of business was his mother. He grabbed the man on top of her and threw him over the burning house.

“Don’t just stand there you fools!” shouted the instigator who attacked his father. “Kill him!”

They may as well have been gnats attacking a dinosaur. The first man lunged but Clark grabbed him by the forearm and crushed it in his grip until he heard the bones snap. A quick view with X-Ray vision confirmed the broken arm. The man cried out in agony.

A second attacker broke his fist against Clark’s jaw. Clark swatted him away like a fly. He landed on the barbwire fence twenty-five yards away. Clark hoped the barbs sliced him to ribbons.

A gunman pulled a piece and fired it at point-blank range at Clark’s head. It may as well have been in slow motion. Clark caught the bullet in his teeth and spat it back at the gunman. The bullet tore through his knee and the shooter crumpled to the ground.

Clark swept through the Klan like a buzz-saw until none were left standing. The Klan out of commission, he turned his attention to his parents. They were huddled together, checking on one another to make sure they were okay. He rushed to them. “Are you…”

His father nodded. “We’re no worse for the wear son. Go! People need you!”

Clark returned to the sky. There was one other place he needed to check.

Terror had visited the Lang farm too. The Klan was beating Mr. Lang with their belts when Clark arrived. Twin crosses burned on his front lawn. A quick search with x-ray vision found Lana and her mom hiding in the pig pen.

Two Klansmen were looking for them. “Come on out and we’ll spare the pretty young one’s life!”

Clark swooped down and grabbed an old steel bumper from Mr. Lang’s broken-down Chevy pick-up. He rushed to the men and hovered behind them. “Looking for someone?”

The two men turned. “Sweet Jesus!” one of them cried.

Clark circled them like a tornado and wrapped them in the bumper. It proved an excellent restraint.

A third man left Mr. Lang’s beating and retrieved a double-barrel shotgun from his truck. Before he could even fire, Clark peeled the barrels apart like a banana and tied them into a knot. The man threw down his gun and ran but a super-breath knocked him off his feet.

“Look out!” Lana cried from her hiding spot, emboldened by Clark’s sudden appearance.

A tire iron caught Clark in the back of the head. It didn’t hurt him of course but it did make him mad. Clark grabbed his assailant and planted him in a treetop half a mile away.

When at last the Klan was subdued Clark checked on Mr. Lang. He was badly beaten. His face was so swollen it was nearly impossible to tell who he was. He was choking on blood so Clark lifted his head. “Spit out the blood.”

Mr. Lang spit the blood onto the ground and smiled with a mouth full of broken teeth. “We gave them hell didn’t we son?”

Clark nodded. “We did sir.”

“My family?” Mr. Lang asked.

“They’re fine,” Clark replied. He offered Mr. Lang a hand. “Can you stand?”

Lana and her mother ran to Mr. Lang’s side.

“Thank you again,” said Lana. “You don’t know what this means to me.”

Before Clark could answer a truck full of reinforcements turned onto the dirt road leading to the Lang farm and roared toward them.

“Everyone behind me,” Clark ordered.

Mr. Lang shook his head. “I should help. This is my farm.”

Lana’s mother grabbed Mr. Lang by the arm. “The boy is our only hope, Silas.”

Mr. Lang dropped his head then nodded. The pained expression on his face wasn’t the result of his physical injuries.

The truck roared toward Clark. One of the men was the one he deposited in the tree earlier. He must have made his way down somehow and told the others. Once the truck stopped, both hooded men and those in plain clothes piled out the tailgate to join the battle against Clark.

Clark shrugged the first two off easily. They didn’t seem to put up much of a fight nor did the next three who attacked.

“Now!” called a man still in the back of the pickup. The others abandoned the fight with Clark and ran.

It was then Clark first noticed the TNT on at his feet. The explosion rocked the ground and tore the earth from underneath him. It wasn’t easy to knock him off-balance but the Klansmen and their sympathizers succeeded.

“Don’t know what you hope to accomplish by…” Clark felt weak but managed to stand to his feet before falling into the pitted earth once more. A wave of nausea churned in his stomach. He tried to stand once more but vertigo buckled his knees. It was like the sensation he felt when Lana hit him with that rock while playing stick ball but a thousand times worse.

The eerie green glow of the strange, exposed rocks lit up the yard.

“What the hell is it?” one of the Klansmen asked in a hushed whisper.

No one ventured a guess.

“If it’ll do that to him, think what it may do to us,” said another in awestruck reverence.

One of the non-hooded men shook his head. “Something doesn’t add up here boys.” He walked over to a small chunk of rock and picked it up.

“Careful Lucius,” said one of the others. “That stuff might be deadly.”

The man he called Lucius smiled. “Deadly? Not to us it ain’t but to that flying monkey…” He approached Clark with the glowing rock and pressed it into Clark’s face.

Clark screamed. The pain was unbearable.

“Look at the veins pop out on that boy’s face!” said one of the hooded Klansmen.

Lucius kicked Clark in the ribs. The blow produced the telltale sound of cracking bones.

With his ribs cracked it became even harder for Clark to breathe. How could he hurt so? He was invulnerable! Wasn’t he? He tried to crawl away but even a movement mastered by infants the world over proved unbearable. It was obvious the strange, glowing rocks were to blame but why didn’t they affect everyone else?

There was little time to ponder the mystery of the rocks before the beating began. Men kicked and stomped Clark as viciously as they could. Mr. Lang rushed to stop them but he was pushed away, beneath their notice. It was as if Clark was the elusive twelve-point buck on a hunting trip and no other trophy would suffice.

“What’s wrong boy?” one of the men shouted, emphasizing the word “boy”. “No fight life in you?”

“Not your boy,” Clark whispered defiantly. For the first time in his young life, Clark Kent thought he was going to die. He thought of his parents and how they would be heartbroken. If only he would have listened to his father and… no, he fought the good fight and if giving his life would advance the cause of freedom and equality even an inch closer to reality then it would be worth it.

“Momma!” Lana screamed. “They’re killing him! We’ve got to help him!”

Lana’s scream snapped Clark back from near-death, if only for a moment. He saw her mother grab Lana by the arm and pull her away. For the first time in his life he found himself unable to hear the most private of conversations. He was sure she was explaining to Lana that there was nothing they could do to help him and that he sacrificed himself to give them a chance, or at least he hoped that was the conversation they were having.

With three men closing in on the two Lang women and Mr. Lang unconscious on the ground, Clark didn’t need super-hearing to make out Ms. Lang’s instructions to her daughter, “Run, Lana! Run!”

Lana bolted toward the woods but two of the men headed her off before she could disappear into the trees. They wrestled her to the ground and tore her shirt off.

The one called Lucius stood over Clark relishing his victory.

“God has seen fit to deliver our enemy into our hands this night boys! Raise the Southern Cross gentlemen for the Lord has blessed us with a sacrificial lamb!”

A small cadre of men drug two large wooden beams from the back of the pickup. The notched logs were made to fit into one another and within moments they formed a cross. A large spike was driven into the notch to secure them together. While they worked feverishly to erect the cross, others grabbed shovels from the truck and set to work digging a hole between the twin, flaming crosses already burning in the Lang’s front yard.

Clark knew what was coming next. They laid him on the upright beam of the newly-constructed cross. He tried to fight back but resistance proved futile. They spread out his arms and held them in place. The next few minutes were a blur – spitting, cursing, someone urinated on him, and then came the railroad spikes. The first one was placed between the ulna and radius or his right arm. The same hammer that assembled the cross drove the spike deep into his wrist and into the wood beneath.

Clark cried out in agony and prayed for a miracle that didn’t come.

A minute later the scene was repeated as his left wrist was assailed. His feet were placed one on top of the other and a third spike driven into them. Clark writhed in agony. A moment later the Klan lifted the cross into the air. The pain was multiplied a thousand fold as his weight was shifted to his bones. Then the cross was dropped into the hole.

Clark looked down on the men. He’d never seen such hatred in any other eyes. They relished his suffering, his agony. How could anyone be so callous? Breathing became increasingly difficult with his arms spread open wide, so Clark pushed up on the spike in his feet in order to draw a breath. When his feet could no longer bear the pain he dropped his weight on them once more. Each time he did so the spike in his wrists tore a little more flesh away. His lungs began to heave within his chest. His breathing grew more shallow with each repetition of the brutal cycle.

He spotted Lana lying face down and naked in the pig pen. He hoped she was still alive. Her father was still unconscious as well and only the Good Lord knew what happened to her mother.

It was then Clark noticed the men piling kindling and firewood around the base of his cross. They retrieved a can of gasoline from the truck and soaked the wood. All eyes turned to Clark.

Lucius looked up at him. “Beg for mercy, boy!”

Clark couldn’t beg if he wanted to. It shamed him that the gurgles of blood emanating from deep within his throat were mistaken for pleadings for compassion.

“I don’t know boys,” said Lucius. “I’d like to believe the ape’s recognized his rightful place but it’s hard to tell with that grunting jungle language of his. What do you think?”

One of the other men kneeled at the foot of the cross with a cigarette lighter. Clark couldn’t help but note the praying hands on the side of the Zippo. “I say if it can’t talk then it must be an animal. What do you think, Lucius? Barbecue time?”

Lucius nodded. “Yeah, barbecue time, Ray.”

“Ray” set the spark to the cross and flames erupted to life. As the flames inched up the beam one man joked that it was too bad they had no popcorn for the show.

Hanging between heaven and hell Clark did all that was left in his power for him to do. He prayed, but would his miracle ever come?

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