Monday, April 03, 2006
Abstract, Chapter 1
Season 3, sequel to "Whisper"
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC comics, not to me
Chloe Sullivan talks a mile a minute. So the fact that we’d sat in silence for over two hours meant things had gotten pretty bad between us.
Chloe and I had been friends for years, ever since middle school, but lately our friendship had taken a lot of hits. A few months before, I’d run off to Metropolis under the influence of a mind-altering rock, and when she’d found me there I’d been pretty rude to her-- so rude that it was really kind of amazing she still talked to me at all. Then I’d discovered she had agreed to give Lionel Luthor information about me. When I learned about that, I found myself actually yelling at her, for the first time in our friendship, and she’d practically broken down in tears.
According to Chloe, she hadn’t told Lionel anything, and he’d just caught her at a weak moment. I could relate to weak moments, considering the mess I’d made of my life in Metropolis last summer. But I was still kind of mad at her, and apparently she wasn’t happy with me, either. Because she hadn’t said a thing for the last two hours, even though it had been her idea to drive together to Metropolis.
See, I’d stupidly signed up for an art history class this year. I don’t know why, because art is definitely not my strongest subject. Particularly not abstract art, which was what we were studying right now. Maybe it’s because I’m Kryptonian instead of human, but I can’t figure out what anyone sees in abstract art. It just looks like a bunch of squiggles to me.
Anyway, the teacher, Mr. Mills, gave us an assignment to go see a work of abstract art in person and write a report on it. According to him, viewing a copy of an artwork on paper wasn’t at all the same thing as seeing the brush strokes on canvas, or seeing the texture of a metal sculpture. I figured it would just look like a bigger bunch of squiggles, but I wanted a good grade, so I’d need to find a piece of art that fit the bill.
“Great,” Chloe had griped as we were walking out of the class. It used to be we always walked out of our classes together, but now she just happened to be near me, and apparently she was talking to the air. “It’s not like Smallville is full of museums. Where are we supposed to find a piece of abstract art?”
“Try the junkyard,” I said sourly.
Her head whipped around so fast her blond hair flew, and her hazel eyes widened as she realized I was right behind her. Almost instantly those eyes narrowed in a way that plainly conveyed dislike. But she said, almost civilly, “I guess you don’t like abstract art much, huh, Clark?”
“Spoken like a true Neanderthal,” she said. Great. There went the civility. “That’s exactly what I’d expect of you.”
My teeth clenched together at her tone. “I’m not a Neanderthal,” I gritted out.
“No, I guess not. You’re not that highly evolved.” She turned her back on me, lifted her chin, and stalked regally toward her locker. Stung, I hurried after her.
“Excuse me,” I said, slamming a hand onto her locker door so she couldn’t open it. “What is your problem?”
She looked up at me, lifting her eyebrows. “The only problem I have is that you’re a jerk.”
“I’m a jerk?” I had to stop myself from banging my fist against her locker door, which probably would have knocked a hole in it. That would be a bit hard to explain. “Who exactly was trying to sell me out to Lionel Luthor?”
“I told you. He caught me at a weak moment.”
“No, he offered you thirty pieces of silver. The only kind of silver that appeals to you. A column at the Daily Planet. And you were happy enough to offer me up as a sacrifice to your future career.”
“I know it was wrong,” she said in a low voice. She looked away from me, dropping her dark lashes over her eyes to veil them, and I could have sworn I saw her lip quiver. “I told you, Clark, I’ve been trying to get out of my agreement with him ever since.”
Some of the annoyance drained out of me. I’ve never been much good at holding grudges, especially not at Chloe. But I couldn’t say it was okay, either, because it wasn’t. “Yeah,” I said instead, forcing my voice into a more moderate tone. “You did tell me that.”
She peered up at me from under her lashes. “Look, Clark, I know things have kind of gone south between us. But I was thinking maybe we could spend some time together this weekend.”
The thought that she wanted to mend bridges warmed me a bit, and I couldn’t quite restrain a smile. “You want to hang out with a Neanderthal? Aren’t I kind of primitive for you?”
“But if you don’t mind hanging out with someone so unevolved, maybe we can go hunting with clubs, or bang on rocks, or something.”
“Stop it,” she said with a small smile of her own. “I thought maybe we could drive to Metropolis together on Saturday and check out the Museum of Modern Art there. That way we could take care of this assignment and… you know… talk.”
That’s how I wound up in Chloe’s red VW Beetle, which was really too small for a six foot three guy with long legs. It meant taking three hours to make a journey I could have made in about five minutes using superspeed. But I wasn’t complaining if it meant Chloe and I could work out our issues.
The only problem was, we weren’t likely to work anything out if we didn’t start talking. We were already most of the way to Metropolis, and the only words that had been exchanged were about the weather. In fact, this was the total sum of our conversation so far:
“Hot, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty hot.”
“Uh-huh, definitely. Kinda hot.”
Usually we would have energetically debated about thirty topics by now. I looked out the window and sighed, resisting the urge to bang my head against the glass. We were on the interstate, and the traffic was starting to get heavy as we approached the city. Chloe had Remy Zero in her CD player, but over the sound of the music I started to hear a sort of low-level hum.
“What’s that sound?” I blurted.
Chloe jumped, and I realized we’d been so quiet for so long that my voice had startled her. She glanced at me, then turned her gaze back to the road. “What sound?”
“Kind of… a hum. A buzz.”
She frowned intently for a moment. “You think there’s something wrong with my engine? God, I hope not.”
“Uh…” I cocked my head and concentrated. I’d recently developed superhearing, and I was still learning to control it. At first it had practically driven me nuts, because sounds just overpowered me, but with my dad’s help I’d learned to focus it, at least to a certain degree. “No, I don’t think it’s the car.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, Clark. I don’t hear anything.”
I resisted the urge to rub at my ears. If she couldn’t hear it, it was probably something beyond the range of human hearing, and the less I let on I could hear it, the better. I leaned my head back against the headrest and tried to ignore it as we drove on.
Silence fell between us again. But the silence wasn’t as silent as I would have liked. The mysterious noise was still there, and it was getting louder.
By the time the signs said “Metropolis 20 miles,” the buzz had gotten so aggravating that I really wanted to stick my fingers in my ears. I slouched down in my seat and closed my eyes, trying to focus my hearing the way I’d recently learned to. I couldn’t seem to focus on any one thing, though. The buzz was making me nuts.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
I opened an eye and looked at her. “I’m fine.”
“You sure? Because you almost look like you’re in pain.”
I realized I was grinding my teeth together, and she could probably see me clenching my jaw. I swallowed, tried to relax my muscles, and made an effort to sit up straighter. “No. I’m fine, really.”
“Want to stop for lunch? The signs say there’s a Mickey D’s ahead.”
Just the thought of a hamburger made my stomach lurch unpleasantly. “No, I don’t think so. Maybe when we get to Metropolis.”
She shrugged and kept driving. Before long the skyscrapers of Metropolis became visible on the skyline. It was a sight that never failed to impress me, since I’m a smalltown boy and Metropolis is as different from Smallville as Antarctica is from the Sahara. Same state, different world. But I couldn’t even whip up any enthusiasm for the vast skyline today. I sat huddled on the seat, trying not to look as miserable as I felt.
“Okay,” Chloe said suddenly, throwing on the turn signal and diving for an exit in a way that made my stomach roll over. “That’s it. We’re getting off right now. Because you’re about to hurl in my car.”
“I’m fine,” I protested weakly as she wove wildly through traffic.
“Crap. I know what fine looks like, and trust me, you are not fine.”
The little car shot off the interstate, merged into traffic on a busy road, and pulled off into a parking lot. She threw the gearshift into park and turned to look at me. “What’s wrong, Clark?”
I could hardly hear her voice over the buzzing, which had swelled into a dull roar. “Not sure,” I said. To my own ears my voice sounded like a whisper, insignificant and almost inaudible. I felt like I was sinking into an ocean of sound, drowning under the waves. The roar was the audio version of a Jackson Pollock painting, chaotic and frenzied and totally overpowering.
Hardly aware of what I was doing, I drew my knees up and dropped my forehead against them, curling into a defensive ball against the wall of noise.
She reached over and touched my cheek, presumably to see if I was feverish. “Maybe we should just go home.”
I thought of Smallville, the peace and quiet, the solitude, and a jolt of longing hit me. That was exactly what I needed right now. I desperately wanted to go home.
The thought of home cleared my head a bit, and suddenly I realized what the problem was. I’d been to Metropolis plenty of times in the past—like I said before, I’d even lived there for three months this past summer—but this was the first time I’d been to the city since my superhearing had developed. The city was so much louder than Smallville that the tricks I’d learned to help focus it weren’t working. The roar I was hearing was composed of millions of voices, millions of car engines, millions of whirring machines, all beating against my eardrums in a relentless barrage of sound. And we were only on the outskirts of the city. God help me if we went into the heart of downtown, where the Museum of Modern Art was located. Just the thought of the noise level I’d encounter there made me cringe.
But I was going to have to learn to deal with it at some point, or I’d never be able to come to the city again, and I didn’t want that. I liked Metropolis. And I didn’t intend to live in Smallville forever.
“No,” I said, a little more strongly. “I don’t want to go home. I'm okay, really.”
“You’re a terrible liar,” she murmured, stroking my hair.
I swallowed, trying desperately to focus on her voice and ignore everything else. It helped a little. The feel of her hand against my hair helped a bit, too. “I’m just a little carsick,” I whispered.
“We’ve known each other a long time, Clark. I’ve never known you to get carsick before.”
It had never been easy to pull anything over on Chloe. She had a reporter’s instincts, so lying to her usually didn’t work well. But I could hardly tell her the truth, either. I imagined what I’d say: I’m an alien and I’ve recently developed superhearing, and I just didn’t realize how overpoweringly loud the city would be.
Yeah, sure. If I said that, she’d probably turn the car around and head straight for Belle Reve Sanitarium.
But if I didn’t want to wind up a gibbering idiot who belonged in Belle Reve, I needed to learn how to focus my hearing against this incredible wall of sound.
And in order to do that, I was going to need Chloe’s help.
Read Chapter 2 here.
Posted by Meg at 7:07 AM