Friday, February 16, 2007

The Maze

Season 6, AU take on "Labyrinth"
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.

"When the human mind is faced with tremendous pain, it has no choice but to defend itself. You've taken bits and pieces of your surroundings, and developed them into a fantasy, an alternate world where you could feel safe and secure."

I haven't been living in a fantasy world. I haven't.

Dr. Hudson is still droning on, and I look up at him. I'm seated in a chair, my arms bound in a straitjacket, and I don't want to listen to him, but I can't help it, because something about his voice compels me to listen. He's an older man with white hair and kind eyes, and he looks like someone's grandfather, and I can tell he wants what's best for me.

But he's wrong.

"Clark," he says gently. "In a world in which you had no powers, you chose to give yourself superpowers."

I have superpowers, damn it. I do. I've used them over and over again. I remember superspeeding through corn fields, just for the hell of it, superspeeding to save people's lives. I remember using my heat vision, my x-ray vision, my superbreath. I know they all sound kind of silly and unbelievable, but they're my powers.

Except I can't use them right now for some reason. I couldn't use them to save my best friend, Chloe Sullivan, an hour ago. She was shot right in front of me, and I couldn't do a thing to save her. My powers don't seem to work here.

And as I think about it, I realize the memories of my powers are all kind of fuzzy somehow. I try to remember how it felt to superspeed, but it's like I'm walking through a maze in my mind, and I can't quite get to the memory. Almost like when you're trying to remember a dream, and it fades out on you.

But my superpowers aren't a dream. They can't be. They're part of me.

"Good morning, Doctor."

A nurse walks into the room, a clipboard in her hand. She's middle-aged, African-American, and a little on the chubby side. I look at her nametag and see it reads Raya.

That can't be right. I remember Raya as a tall, blonde, thin Kryptonian woman. Kryptonian, like me. I'm an alien from another planet, and so was Raya.

But as I stare at the nurse, I see her image superimposed over the blonde Raya's, and I realize I've seen her before, many times. Almost every day. She's taken care of me every day since I've been here at the Fairview Mental Hospital. For years and years and years.

I shake my head, trying to get rid of the memory, because it isn't right. I haven't been here for years. Hell, no. I just found myself here this morning. I was somehow ripped away from the world I really live in, the world where I have superpowers. The world where I'm an alien who's stronger and more powerful than anyone else on the planet.

I've never been in this hospital before. I certainly haven't spent years here. I don't belong here, because I'm not crazy. I'm just an alien from another planet.

And yeah, that sounds crazy. But it's not. I swear.

I know I'm an alien, born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, but I'm looking desperately around the room anyway, and everything I see freaks me out worse than before. There's a sign that says Building capacity 331, and there's a little smudge of dirt that makes it look like 33.1. I remember hearing my friend Chloe talk about Level 33.1, where Lex Luthor is experimenting on people with superpowers. People like me. Chloe and I talked about that in the other world, the real world.

Except maybe we didn't. I force my way deeper into the complex, twisted maze of my memories, and suddenly I remember whispering to Chloe in the common room of Fairview Mental Hospital about it. We didn't talk about it in the other world at all. We talked about it right here, in this building.

Which would mean Level 33.1 doesn't really exist. It's just a number on a wall.

I don't like that idea, and I try to push it away, but it hovers around the corners of my mind, haunting me. I look around the room more frantically than before, seeing a book that says Fortress of Solitude: A Prison Memoir.

I remember the Fortress of Solitude. It's not a prison, but a huge structure of ice in the Arctic. I remember seeing it erupt out of the snow, growing from a crystal I threw. I went inside the enormous edifice and found my Kryptonian father there-- well, an AI version of my Kryptonian father-- and I would have embarked on my training then, but Chloe followed me, and I had to save her because she was freezing to death.

Or maybe that's all in my head, and I'm just thinking of the day we both escaped from Fairview and ran barefoot through the snow for almost a mile before they caught us. It was cold, so cold my feet hurt, then went numb, and Chloe stumbled and fell in the snow, and finally I had to carry her. It was so cold it felt like the Arctic. We both had to be treated for frostbite.

And I remember it. I remember the day we escaped. But I don't want to remember it.

I look around, seeing pictures with familiar names on them. Oliver Queen, Employee of the Month is posted on a wall. And that's not right, because Ollie Queen is my good friend, a billionaire who moonlights as an arrow-shooting hero. And that's not his face under the name.

But as I push deeper into the twisting paths of the maze in my mind, I remember the face on the wall, and the name, too. Ollie Queen brings me breakfast every morning. He's a good guy, and I like him, because he never makes fun of me the way some of the attendants do.

Suddenly I'm through the maze, and I remember all of it, every day I've spent in this place, every fantasy I've made up to help myself escape from a dark, grim life spent in a small, cinderblock cell. And before that, I remember every story I made up to escape from a world in which my parents were killed right in front of me.

They were killed by the meteor shower, and I saw them die. I remember it all.

"My father." My throat is tight, but I manage to get words out in a hoarse voice. "My birth father, I mean. His name was Joe Ellison. Is that right?"

Dr. Hudson's eyes crinkle at the corners, and I can tell he's pleased with me. "That's right, Clark. Joseph R. Ellison. That's where you got the name Jor-El from."

"And my mother... Laura?"

"Exactly right." He smiles more broadly. "Very good, Clark. You're breaking through the walls all on your own. I have every reason to believe the treatment will work now."

Part of me doesn't want to break through the walls, or take the treatment. My parents are dead... and I saw them die.

I was only three, but now that I've stepped out of the maze, I vividly remember seeing the meteors fall screaming from the sky, hitting the ground with terrible force, crushing everything that got in their way. The ground shook, and glass and cars and debris flew in every direction. We were in downtown Smallville, and my mother shoved me into a shop to protect me, then ran toward my father.

And then a meteor crashed into the street.

It hit my father directly, and he was crushed instantly. I heard grownups whispering afterward, heard them saying the authorities couldn't even find most of his remains. My mother was still some distance from the impact, and she was flung through the air by the shockwave and hit the sidewalk right in front of the store. I was still watching through the glass door, and I remember seeing her slam into the ground, her neck bent at a terrible angle, her eyes wide, her blood everywhere.

I screamed, and screamed, and kept on screaming.

A childless couple named Jonathan and Martha Kent took me in and raised me on their farm just outside of Smallville. They were good solid people, wonderful people, but I couldn't forget my own parents, couldn't forget seeing them die right in front of me. The memory haunted me, slashing into my soul every time I thought about it-- and I thought about it a hell of a lot. Eventually I started to make up stories, because I couldn't bear the memories. I guess most kids make up stories, but mine were more detailed than most.

And eventually I began to believe them.

It's all been a dream, I think, staring at Dr. Hudson. A delusion. I'm not superpowered, and I'm not an alien. I'm just an ordinary human named Clark Kent. A human who was once a little boy named Clark Ellison.

Dr. Hudson bends and picks up a green rock from his desk. I struggle to my feet--awkwardly, because I'm still straitjacketed-- and stagger backward, away from it.

"This is a meteor rock from Smallville," the doctor says.

I know what it is, and I'm afraid of it. In my memory, it's associated with horrible pain, because "Kal-El" can't be near meteor rocks. They hurt too much. I huddle against the wall, anticipating the agony, fearing it. But Dr. Hudson pauses right in front of me, holding out the rock, and there's no pain.

"It can't hurt you," he says in his gentle voice. "It's not what you call kryptonite, Clark. It's just a rock."

I stare at the rock for a long time, remembering the day the meteors fell. Maybe the rock can't hurt me physically, but the awful memories it brings flooding back hurt just as badly.

No wonder I've always imagined that "kryptonite" hurts me. Because it does.

Oh, God, it hurts just to look at it.

I feel tears prickling against my eyelids, and I blink hard, trying to force them back. My parents are dead. They've been dead for years. And now my best friend is dead too, all because she believed my crazy stories about a lost planet and its sole alien survivor, rocketed here to Earth when he was only a small child.

Chloe's dead because of me, because I've been lost in a world of delusion and fantasy, and that knowledge hurts even more than the memory of my parents' terrible deaths.

"Chloe." I can barely get the word out. "She's really dead. Isn't she?"

Dr. Hudson looks into my eyes for a moment, then looks away. "I'm sorry, Clark." He puts the rock down on a table and turns toward the door. "I'll get the treatment ready."

He walks out of the room, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I sink down slowly and sit on the floor, thinking.

I've been living in this delusion, hiding in the maze, for a long, long time, and part of me wants to run back into the maze and never come out again. Because it hurts to think about my parents' deaths. It hurts just as badly as I imagined "kryptonite" hurt me in my fantasies.

I look at the chunk of greenish rock, sitting on the table, and I hate it with a passion, because those rocks ruined my life. When the meteors fell flaming from the sky, they destroyed my world, and I never really got it back somehow.

So I just made up a new world.

But now that I've fought my way through the maze of fantasy, now that I've finally found reality, I can't go back into the maze. I want to, but I can't. Because a sweet, innocent girl is dead because of my fantasies. I can't risk letting that happen again, can't risk that someone else could get hurt because they believed in my crazy delusions.

I have to take the treatment. It's the right thing to do. And part of me thinks maybe that it's what my parents-- my real parents, Joe and Laura Ellison-- would have wanted. They'd want me to learn to live in the real world, not in a maze of delusion and imagination.

Because yeah, the real world hurts. Sometimes it hurts an awful lot.

But in the end, it's the only world we have.

-The End-


SelfAppointedCritic said...

*Sigh* Here's hoping that the wellspring of your brilliance never runs dry Elly.

Amber said...

Awesome job Elly!!!!!! That was Very Intense, Powerful, and Moving!!!! Just a Beautiful insight on everything!!!!! Again, Awesome job and keep up the Awesome work!!!!!!!!!! Take Care.

blackheart_me said...

I remember when i saw the previews for this episode I thought she was really going to die and i was sad. But then i saw it and i loved the Chlark moments. I love how u get into the dimension he was in and his pain. This was so sad, but i loved it. I loved it entirely. Every word.