The hellish flames lapped at the soles of Clark Kent’s feet. He hung on a burning cross, the inexplicable victim of senseless Klan violence. The glowing green rocks the TNT uncovered sapped his strength and left him vulnerable to a sensation he had little experience with – pain. His whole life he wondered what the sensation was like until the day Lana batted one of the glowing rocks into his face while playing stickball. His parents tried to describe the sensation to him before but it was like trying to explain the difference between red and green to a blind man. The black eye was surprising. This was far more excruciating than he ever imagined.
The leader of the group that hung him on the cruel cross was a man named Lucius. His group of thugs was just one of many cells terrorizing people of color across Lowell County. Facing death, Clark’s deepest regret was not being able to save others facing similar attacks.
He was relieved to see Lana push herself out of the mire of her family’s pigpen where she had likely been raped. Unable to speak, he whispered a silent prayer for her in his head that she would be able to heal psychologically from the horrors she witnessed.
Lana locked eyes with him. What was going through her mind? She was so confident he would swoop in and save her family and he failed miserably. If he could tell her the truth - about who he was and how he felt about her before he died – he would feel better but it was no use. He was too weak to muster even a syllable.
Blood soaked his costume. When this all began he fashioned it from the threads of the baby blanket he was wrapped in when his father rescued him from his rocket. He hoped it would instill courage and hope in his people. Now that hope dripped into the fire in a steady stream of crimson and hissed angrily at the flames that consumed it.
“What kind of animals are you people?” demanded a strong voice that carried over the din.
Clark thought he recognized the voice but couldn’t see past the haze of hickory smoke that filled his lungs. “Please Lord, not him!” Clark muttered unintelligibly.
The polish of Rex Tyler’s northeastern twang was unmistakable. He was a good man but good wasn’t enough against a bloodthirsty mob of racists. It was one thing to a hold a portly, pompous county clerk’s feet to the fire but the Klan wouldn’t concern themselves with civility for appearance’s sake.
Clark tried to raise his voice to warn Tyler away but he was nowhere to be found among the confusion. Then he saw a hooded Klansman go flying across the Lang’s front yard and then another. Some of the men tried to run but then their pickup itself went flying. What was happening?
Then Clark saw him, not Mr. Tyler but…. Hourman? What was the JSA legend doing in Smallville? Had the whole world made a pilgrimage to witness their suffering?
“… worse than the Nazis…” Clark heard Hourman say. And that’s when he put two and two together. Hourman was Rex Tyler!
“Your era is over mystery-man!” Lucius shouted as his men gathered in front of him. “You have some gall showing your face again after all these years! The HUAC found your kind a disgrace! Traitor!”
The war-era hero leaped into the air and used a hooded head as a springboard to kick bewildered Klansmen on either side of him. They stumbled into the gathering ranks of their companions and knocked several to the ground with their momentum. Hourman followed through by leaping off the Klansman’s head and came to rest in front of Lucius. “Sorry, but I never talk politics on the first date.”
“Impressive,” said Lucius. “But the Lord has delivered victory into our hands tonight over one demon. I’m sure another will be no problem. Kneel before your master!”
“You must have me mistaken for someone else,” Hourman shot back. He answered with a swift backhand that sent Lucius flying into the pig pen. His white robes covered with muck, the shocked Klansman slumped into the gooey filth. He staggered to regain his footing and nearly made it to his feet before falling again. A Klan brother ran to his side to help him but the slimy muck was too much for him and they both slipped into it trying to hold one another up.
Wallowing in the Mississippi mud like a fattened family pig, Lucius unleashed a tirade of profanities and ordered what few men that hadn’t ran to attack the mystery-man.
Hourman obliged them.
Clark was fortunate enough to have seen a Zorro movie or two in his day. The swashbuckling swordsman’s choreographed antics paled next to those of the former Justice Society member. He plowed through his attackers like a runaway steam train. He was faster and far stronger than the Klan. For the first time in his life Clark appreciated the awe people expressed whenever they watched him in action. He felt hope again.
When at last the final Klansman fell, Hourman rushed to the cross and took Clark down. It hurt terribly when the Man of the Hour removed the spike through his feet. Clark yelped in pain.
“I’ll get you to a hospital, son. You’ve lost a lot of blood. Try not to move,” said Hourman.
Clark gasped for breath. “Lana…”
“I’m not sure, son.”
“Get me away from the glowing stones,” Clark whispered.
Hourman looked confused but carried Clark to the edge of the Lang’s garden. “I apologize if I aggravate your injuries. I’ll find a vehicle and return for you.”
Clark felt stronger and sat up. “My wounds are healing already now that I’m away from those crazy rocks.”
Hourman watched in amazement as Clark’s wounds closed up before his eyes. “It seems you’re a gifted young man.”
“You don’t know the half of it, sir,” Clark replied.
His wounds healing by the moment, Clark stood. “Give me a minute and you can I can…”
“We” won’t do anything of the sort. You leave the hero business to the professionals before you get yourself killed,” Hourman shot back.
“I don’t understand,” Clark answered.
“It takes more than a fancy pair of long-johns to fight the good fight,” said Hourman.
Clark smiled. “I can take care of myself.”
“It doesn’t look like it from where I’m standing,” Hourman replied.
“Those glowing rocks did something to me,” Clark explained. “I…”
“I have to go,” said Hourman. “This madness is everywhere and spreading.”
And with that simple proclamation the hero known as the Man of the Hour disappeared into the night leaving Clark dumbfounded.
Rex Tyler was… Hourman?
Two Days Later
For once, Smallville Police Chief Douglas Parker was thankful his office was on the top floor of the county courthouse. The corner unit that sat over the jail two floors below also afforded him a good view of the town’s streets. Today those streets were filled with reporters from all over the country.
“I don’t want to do this,” he complained, peeking out the blinds. “You’re throwing me to the wolves.”
Lionel Luthor sat at Chief Parker’s desk tapping an ink pen against the glass top cover. “Nonsense, Doug! We must rid Smallville of these vultures! What happens here is our business!”
Chief Parker released the blinds and turned to Luthor. “The rest of the country has made it theirs, old friend.”
Lionel stood and grabbed Parker by the shoulder. “Which is precisely why someone in authority must assure them the situation is in hand.”
“But is it, Lionel?” Parker asked. “We have no idea who gave the order last night.”
“A damned fool who obviously wasn’t smart enough to realize their actions would draw half the country to Smallville, that’s who!” Lionel shouted. “The last thing we need is even more FBI poking its nose around in our business!”
Parker nodded and looked at his watch. “It’s time.”
Luthor walked him to the door. “You remember the plan?”
“I do,” Parker answered. “Let’s just hope they go for it.”
The pair walked silently to the elevator at the end of the hall and descended to the ground floor. When the doors slid open they entered the long main hallway that led to the oversized front doors. Past the town’s two courtrooms they strode before pausing to view the large oil painting of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and remained silent as if trying to draw strength or wisdom from the image.
At last they exited their haven and made their way into the blinding sunlight.
“There they are!” shouted a reporter from who knew where.
The press quickly gathered around the makeshift stage and podium thrown together for the press conference.
Chief Parker took to the podium and blew his whistle to quieten the crowd. “Now listen! We don’t have fancy public address systems for these things like they do in the big cities up north where y’all are from so you’ll have to keep your yaps shut until I’m done talking! I’ll take questions only when I’m finished!”
The press made more noise in urging one another to be quiet.
“For Christ’s sake!” Luthor spat. “Let the man speak!”
At last the murmurs died to a hush and Parker cleared his throat.
“A terrible thing happened in our county last night!” he began. “Terror swept through our streets and spread into the countryside. Eleven were killed in the violence and countless others were wounded, some critically. The county would like to thank the emergency responders from neighboring counties and hospitals who pitched in to help, particularly the colored hospitals. We are a peaceful people who enjoy a simple way of life. I assure the rest of the country that this isn’t us.”
“In that spirit, one of our own citizens, the generous Mr. Lionel Luthor, has agreed to donate a reward of five-thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.”
Parker pounded the podium and pointed his finger to emphasize his point. “Furthermore, I promise those who are guilty will pay dearly for their crimes! The long arm of the law will be vigilant and the hands of justice will strike quickly to punish those responsible!”
The press paused for a moment to assure Parker had finished speaking then peppered him with questions all at once.
Unable to make sense of the cacophony Parker blared on his whistle once more. “One at a time and raise your hands!”
He pointed to a blonde-haired square-jawed reporter in front. “You there!”
The man tipped his hat and got his notepad ready. “Scoop Scanlon, Daily World Star. Thank you for taking my question. Sir, do you have any suspects at this time?”
Parker nodded. “We do but I’m not at liberty to discuss an ongoing investigation.”
Lionel Luthor approached the podium. “Scanlon? I thought you were with the Bulletin!”
Scanlon shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “I’m like you, Luthor. I go where the money is.”
Luthor joined the crowd in laughing at the joke at his expense.
“But seriously the people want to know what you’re doing to keep them safe,” Scanlon pressed.
Parker nudged Luthor aside. “I assure you we’re diligently following every lead.”
A striking blonde woman in a red dress and matching high heels stepped forward. “Molly O’Moore, the Chronicle. Would you care to elaborate on the suspect or suspects? Do you have anyone in custody at this time?”
Parker felt hot under his collar. He was a small-town police chief, ill-equipped to deal with such high stakes. It was one thing to ticket a farmer for parking too close to a fire hydrant. It was another to face the national media pressure cooker.
Luthor was one of Parker’s oldest friends but could also be a difficult man if one crossed him and he had the money to make those people pay. There was little room for mistakes. Parker thought of his two young daughters. A four year ride to Ole Miss wouldn’t come cheap and their futures depended on him convincing the press of their ruse.
“I…” Parker stammered.
Luthor pressed forward. “There’s no reason to hide your beliefs, Doug. The press will find out soon enough anyway. The Chief of Police and I have evidence that the colored preacher Jonathan Kent is to blame for the recent violence.”
The local townspeople, black and white, gasped at the revelation. The black people in the crowd categorically denied Kent was responsible. He was a man who denounced violence even in the face of hatred.
“How can that be?” Perry White yelled over the crowd. “Are you telling us that a black man ordered the Ku Klux Klan to attack his own people? That smells fishy Luthor!”
Luthor smiled smugly as if dismissing White. “White isn’t it?”
“You know damned well who I am Luthor! Perry White, Daily Planet!” White shot back.
“Ah yes! Now I remember,” said Luthor. “I thought Taylor had you doing obituaries down in the basement. What was he called it? The bullpen! That’s it! A little out of your league with a hard news story aren’t you?”
Even from the podium Chief Parker could nearly see Perry White’s ears steam.
“I was there covering the violence, Luthor! You can’t tell me the Klan wasn’t involved,” White shot back.
“What you thought you saw Mr. White proved to be black men masquerading as KKK to draw attention to their list of imagined wrongs,” Parker added. “The Klan knows better than to be active in my county! What we have are a bunch of negroes stirring up trouble.”
“I beg to differ,” said White. “The men who put me in the hospital were most definitely white! If it hadn’t been for that flying boy they would have killed me!”
The press gasped. Did White say a flying boy saved him from the Klan?
Luthor laughed. “A flying boy? Friends I believe Mr. White may have had a little too much to drink that night!”
Some in the crowd laughed along with Luthor.
“Then why did the local paper plaster a headline about him recently?” White shot back.
Parker sensed the conference slipping away from them. “Mr. White, this flying boy as you call him is nothing more than a myth fabricated by the coloreds. Maynard got excited over at the Herald when he heard about a flying boy but printed a retraction the following day.”
“This flying boy was part of the ruse,” Luthor added. “Surely you don’t believe those crazy stories? Super strength? Flight? Invulnerability? Shooting beams of fire out of his eyes? Believe such nonsense and you’re destined to stay one of Taylor’s bulldogs forever!”
The crowd laughed.
“Then explain the water tower!” yelled a young voice over the fray.
The crowd turned in unison.
The black teenager was a puny-looking thing in clothes a size too large and thick, black-rimmed eyeglasses. For all the bravado in his voice when he interrupted, he seemed to shrink away once the spotlight was cast on him.
“The water tower?” Chief Parker asked. “What are you talking about son? Sorry I didn’t get your name.”
“Clark Kent, and that’s my father you’re accusing! Many of us saw the town water tower flying through the air last night. The super boy was carrying it and using it to douse the flames that spread through the woods by Morgan’s Mill!”
“That’s quite an imagination you have son,” Luthor chuckled.
“It should be easy to check out,” Kent replied. “Anyone can drive out there right now and see that the woods were engulfed in a massive fire. It didn’t rain last night and the fire department wasn’t summoned to the scene, yet the ground is soaked. Even if they were there was no way they could get their trucks down in the woods and no water for them to use. How was the fire put out?”
It was an angle neither Parker nor Luthor had considered.
“That boy has a future as a reporter!” Perry White bellowed. “Yes gentlemen, how was the fire extinguished last night?”
“Witnesses including some white folks say they saw the super boy set the tower down as gently as he picked it up and welded it back into place with beams from his eyes,” Kent continued. “I had to see for myself so I climbed up and took a look. The bolts were popped out of place and are missing and the tower is now held in place by a clean weld.”
“We need to look at that tower!” cried Scoop Scanlon.
Luthor tried to wave off the press’s sudden interest in the Smallville water tower. “Ladies and gentlemen surely you don’t believe the word of this … boy? This is the kind of lies the negro community stirs up in this town! This is what we’re dealing with and he’s Jonathan Kent’s kid to boot! He’ll say anything to keep his old man out of trouble! Wait! Come back!”
It was too late. The press was onto a new wrinkle in the story – one so fantastic Luthor could have admitted every sin he ever committed and no one would have blinked.
Lowell County Colored Hospital
Lana Lang opened her eyes and saw flowers on the nightstand beside her bed. “Flowers?”
“Good, you’re awake,” said a male voice she recognized. It came from the other side of the bed.
Lana rolled over and instinctively pulled the blankets over her. “Lex! What are you doing here? And you’re… bald?”
Lex smiled and held his arms open as if he just performed a world-class magic trick. “Surprise!”
“How long have you been here?” Lana asked.
“Long enough to know you snore like a kitten purrs,” Lex replied.
Lana pulled her blankets into a tight knot at her neck. “You can’t be here! My daddy will kill me if he sees you here!”
Silence hung in the air as Lex refused to meet her gaze. There was something he wasn’t telling her. “What is it, Lex?”
“I can’t,” Lex replied with a sigh. He stood and walked to the door. “Get well soon, kiddo.”
“Oh no you don’t!” Lana shouted. “You’re already on my short list, Lex Luthor! Walk out that door and I’ll never speak to you again!”
Lex released the door knob and turned to meet Lana. The sadness in his eyes was nothing like the smooth-talking son of a billionaire she knew.
Lex shook his head. “About your folks… I’m so sorry.”
What was he talking about?
“Sorry for what?” Lana asked as a knot formed in her stomach. Perhaps he meant something else.
Lex buried his face in his hands and sighed before dropping them back down to his waist.
“No!” Lana screamed. “You’re lying! You’re lying! Please say you’re lying Lex!”
Lex shook his head. “I wish I was, Lana. I’m so sorry.”
He approached Lana’s bed and tried to hug her but she pushed him away. “I need to be alone.”
“You’re upset and you have the right to be but I don’t think that’s a good idea right now, baby,” Lex answered.
“Baby?” Lana replied. “You think I’m your baby? Where were you when those monsters were killing my parents?”
“That’s not fair!” Lex shot back. “I didn’t even know it was happening! If I had I would’ve … “
“That’s just it, Lex! You didn’t know,” said Lana. “Can’t you see how wrong this is? We’re from two different worlds and I was a fool to even entertain the fantasy of something with you.”
“So being different is wrong?” Lex asked.
“Yes,” Lana replied. “No! I don’t know! Just leave me alone!”
“Say the word and I’ll denounce my family name and my inheritance to spend the rest of my life with you,” Lex promised.
“What? So we can worry about the Klan knocking down our front door every day and doing to us what they did to my parents?” Lana shouted. “If it weren’t for that super boy you’d be dead by now yourself!”
The concern on Lex’s face changed to rage at the mention of the super boy. “I would have been just fine without that… that…”
“Go ahead and say it Lex,” Lana spat. She put her finger in Lex’s face. “You know it will make you feel better. Jigaboo? Jungle bunny? Nig..”
Lex slapped her hand away. He grabbed her by the face and squeezed it hard then kissed her. The kiss was forceful.
Lana began to cry. She felt violated all over again. “Stop it, Lex! You’re hurting me!”
Lex shoved her into her pillow. “Well I guess two can play at that game then! Goodbye Lana! And if you see your super boy before I do tell him I’m coming after him and I won’t stop until he’s six feet under for doing this to us!”
Lana grabbed Lex’s arm. “So he’s to blame for your cowardice?”
A swift backhand sent Lana sprawling off the bed and into the floor. She pulled herself up and glared at Lex. How foolish of her to believe he was any different than any other white folks!
Lex pointed his finger at her. “I am a Luthor! You don’t get to call me a coward!”
With that, he stormed out of her room leaving Lana to break down and cry. How much more could she take?
The Kent Farm
“Oh Jonathan, it’s a mess!” said Martha as she choked back tears. “All that’s left of it are ashes!”
Jonathan Kent hugged his wife close to him. Since the day he first saw her shed a tear when they were teenagers, it broke her heart to see her cry. “We’ll land on our feet, Martha. We always do.”
His wife pulled away from his tight embrace and pounded her fists on his chest. “And I’m so tired of it! I’m tired of Mississippi! I’m tired of the Klan! I’m tired of lying awake and night and worrying about Clark! I’m just… tired.”
All Jonathan knew to do was to pull her close again and let her sob. And sob she did. Her heaving lungs seemed to push the water out of her body and up through her eyes. Not since her mother died had Martha cried so hard.
“If God be for us who can be against us?” Jonathan asked.
Martha stopped crying and pulled away. “I’m starting to wonder whose side he’s on, Jonathan.”
Jonathan watched the Klan take so much from so many through the years – sons, daughters, husbands, wives, dignity, the feeling of safety, indeed every manner of violation one could imagine. But making the holiest woman he knew lose her faith in God? That made him fighting mad.
At that moment he had a choice. He could become the one thing he hated most – a hypocrite. He would make someone pay for making his wife lose faith. Someone would pay with their life! He would cut their heart out of their still-beating chest and feed it to them! He would show some white man the old Jonathan Kent, the man he was before he gave his life to the Lord! He would… or not.
Jonathan dropped to his knees and clung to his wife’s muddy boots. “Dear God, forgive me for the hatred in my heart! Forgive my moment of weakness. Forgive…”
The only words he formed after that were the repentant cries of a broken heart. He wailed like he imagined Job did when he learned of the loss of his children. His salty tears burned his dirty cheeks as they fell onto his wife’s boots. He was shattered.
“Jonathan, please stop,” Martha begged as she tried to free her feet from her husband’s grip. She bent down and hugged him. “It’s okay, dear. Give it to the Lord.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save us,” Jonathan cried into his wife’s chest.
Martha wiped his tears. “That isn’t your job, honey. That’s why we trust in God.”
It was good to hear that Martha’s faith was strong as ever but he knew she was broken too.
“Don’t you worry,” said Martha, wiping her husband’s tears. “The Lord sent Clark for a reason. He was born for such a time as this.”
Jonathan made his way to his feet. “I feel so guilty putting so much on his young shoulders. He’s my son. I should be protecting him, not the other way around.”
“What is your calling, Jon?” Martha asked. She hadn’t called him Jon in a long time.
“You know my calling – our calling – to bring the word of the Lord to our community,” Jonathan replied.
“And you do that as well as any man who has ever walked this earth, Jonathan Kent!” Martha answered. “I believe with all my heart the Lord will one day say to you, “Well done thy good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest,” but Clark has a different calling – the one the Lord equipped him to do.”
“He’s our only son, Martha,” Jonathan replied. “It’s hard to let him go.”
Martha smiled and nodded. “Of course it is. He’s my baby too, but I know another Father who let his only Son go to save mankind. How can we do less?”
Before Jonathan could answer police sirens filled the air. They were getting closer. Finally he saw them coming down Route 49. There were four of them – the entire Smallville police force!
“What the devil?” Jonathan asked.
Martha pointed to the long dirt drive that turned off Route 49 onto their farm. “Jonathan, they turned in here!”
Jonathan pushed Martha behind him and stood defiantly as the police force rushed toward them. At last the cars roared to a stop and police officers piled out of every car and drew their guns.
“Jonathan!” Martha screamed. “They’re going to shoot us!”
“Can I help you, Norm?” Jonathan asked Norman Dale, the officer in town the most congenial to the black population. He had no gun.
Norman stepped forward. “Relax Mrs. Kent. No one is going to shoot anyone while I’m in charge. Everyone put your guns away!”
The other officers holstered their guns, some reluctantly.
Jonathan breathed a sigh of relief. He too had visions of being mowed down. “What’s going on, Norm?”
Norman looked sorrowful. “I’m afraid I have a warrant for your arrest, Mr. Kent. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” asked Bobby Rogers, a well-known bully and bigot that often caused trouble for the black community. “Don’t go apologizing to a suspect, Norm! For God’s sake you’re supposed to arrest him not coddle him!”
Assured she wouldn’t be shot Martha now stepped in front of her husband to shield him. “Arrest Jonathan? For what, Norman?”
“For stirring up all that trouble, ma’am,” Norman replied. He glared at Rogers. “And I truly am sorry, you miserable son of a bitch! Mr. Kent is one of the finest men I know, black or white. I’d bet my life on his innocence in this mess, but Chief Parker’s the boss. I have to serve the warrant but I don’t have to agree with it or like it!”
“I won’t let you take him,” Martha shot back. “My husband’s done nothing wrong!”
Jonathan pushed his wife out of the way. “It’s okay Martha. Let’s not add resisting arrest to my charges. Find me a good lawyer.”
Jonathan reached out his hands and Rogers was all too eager to handcuff him. Rather than handcuffing his hands in front of him the bully grabbed his hands and forced them behind his back. Once he locked the cuffs into place he gave Jonathan a shove to the ground.
Norman stepped in and pushed Rogers away. He helped Jonathan to his feet and brushed him off. He turned to Rogers and pointed a stern finger in his direction. “Rough up Mr. Kent like that again and I’ll forget we’re both wearing badges. Get me you low-life?”
Rogers didn’t back down. “Yeah, I hear you but you just messed up, Norman Dale! You’ve got bigger problems than a prisoner on your hands now!”
Norman poked his right index finger in Rogers’ chest. “The first hooded robe I see on my front lawn will be the last! Do I make myself clear you sniveling coward?”
Rogers’ nose flared angrily but he backed down and went to his squad car. He hopped inside and slammed the door behind him.
“Mr. and Mrs. Kent, I truly am sorry,” Norm apologized again.
“You should be,” Martha shot back.
Despite the situation Jonathan couldn’t help but smile at his wife’s feistiness. “It’s okay Norm. You’ve got a job to do. Martha’s just upset. Let’s go.”
“Can I hug him before you take him away?” Martha asked.
“It’s not procedure ma’am,” Norm replied. “But this isn’t my idea of justice either. Sure, go ahead.”
Martha wrapped her arms around Jonathan’s waist and got on her tiptoes to peck him on the cheek with a kiss. “I love you, Jonathan.”
He returned the kiss. “Love you too. Tell Clark what happened.”
Norm escorted Jonathan into his squad car carefully and closed the door behind him. As they pulled away Jonathan managed to turn around and mouth another quick ‘I love you’ to Martha before the cars roared out of the driveway and toward town.