Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Look Among You

General Superman story
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
The music is "Rock Me on the Water," by Jackson Browne.

Oh people, look around you
The signs are everywhere
You've left it for somebody other than you
To be the one to care

I remember the day he arrived in Metropolis.

Metropolis had once been a nice place to live-- the City of Tomorrow, as it styled itself-- but recently the crime rate had spiked up, and too many streets downtown were outright dangerous, even in the daylight.

The old church at which I served as a pastor had its hundred-year-old stained glass windows shattered more than once by rocks, compelling our congregation to spend money that would have been better spent on feeding the homeless on Plexiglass to protect the old historic windows.

Even so, my congregation kept the faith. Like me, my parishioners believed that the root causes of the growing crime rate in the city were poverty and hunger and hopelessness, and they worked hard at feeding the homeless in our kitchen, and sheltering them in the cold months. And yet, privately, I'd lost hope, because there were far more lost, homeless souls in Metropolis than we could possibly feed and shelter.

And far too few people cared.

The road is filled with homeless souls
Every woman, child and man
Who have no idea where they will go
But they'll help you if they can

One dark winter night I left the church, having spent several hours serving casseroles to the city's hungry. I locked the church door behind me-- an insurance requirement I didn't care for in the least. A sanctuary ought to be a place where God's children could find shelter from the cold, not a place that was locked at night.

A rusty voice startled me as I walked toward the car. "Hello, old man."

I turned and saw one of the men I'd fed tonight. I knew him only as John. He was a frequent visitor to the church, one of the unfortunate homeless who needed psychiatric care, but who'd somehow slipped through the cracks of the system. He drank too much, occasionally indulged in street drugs, and talked to himself almost constantly. He'd seemed more agitated than usual tonight. But I didn't fear him, because there was no harm in him.

At least, I thought there was no harm in him. But in the dim glow of the street's one working light, I saw the glint of a knife blade held before him.

I stumbled backward, holding out my hand in a gesture of peace. "John," I said. "Let's talk. Do you need more dinner?"

He didn't answer. He stalked me, the knife gleaming ominously, and I saw something wild in his eyes that had never been there before. I wondered if he'd gotten hold of some new drug, or if perhaps he hadn't been able to get his usual amount of alcohol, and was suffering from delirium tremens.

Either way, there was something cold and hard and ugly in his eyes that had never been there before, and the way he held the knife indicated he meant business. I backed up cautiously, until I found myself with my back against the old brick wall of the church.

John strode toward me, and I knew that at seventy, I had no chance in the world of outrunning him, or fighting him for the knife. Unable to do anything else to save myself, I closed my eyes and prayed.

A random memory flashed into my mind, the recollection of my childhood, spent on the sand that spread out in front of my parents' house on the ocean. I remembered the roar of the waves, the salty scent of the sea, and the cry of seagulls. I thought perhaps it was a memory of better, more innocent times, sent by God to comfort me as I died.

My memories were interrupted by a whooshing noise and a thump. I opened my eyes again, startled, and saw John sprawled on the sidewalk, unconscious.

I stared into the darkness, straining my eyes, and as I stared, something blue and crimson streaked away at inhuman speeds.

I didn't know who my savior was, or even what my savior was, but I knew well enough Who was responsible for sending it to save me.

I knelt by the fallen man, my knees creaking as I lowered myself to the sidewalk, and checked his pulse. It was impossibly rapid, but steady. Whoever had knocked him unconscious had done so gently, so as not to harm him.

I dug in my pocket and pulled out my cell phone, patting John gently on the shoulder.

"Easy, John," I said softly, even though I knew he couldn't hear me. "I'll make sure you're taken care of."

Oh people, look among you
It's there your hope must lie
There's a sea bird above you
Gliding in one place like Jesus in the sky

The next day, I stepped out of the hospital into brilliant daylight. To my relief, John was recovering from the previous night. Whatever had knocked him unconscious had done it gently enough that he had no concussion, and his uncharacteristic violence had apparently been due to a new and terrible sort of drug he'd ingested. After talking with the doctor, I was hopeful that he'd finally be receiving the psychiatric care he needed.

I stood on the sidewalk a moment, letting my eyes adjust to the sunlight. All around me people swarmed, unaware or uncaring of the way the city was deteriorating. I'd lived in Metropolis all my adult life, and I hated seeing the city become dangerous. I was doing everything I could to address the cause of the problem as I saw it, to struggle against poverty. But what could a single seventy-year-old man do? If only everyone on this street cared as much as my congregation, tried as hard as my parishioners did...

But they didn't. Perhaps they couldn't. They all had their own concerns, their own worries. They already carried enough burdens, without taking the burdens of others onto their backs. And there were many, many burdens to be carried in the city.

Metropolis' problems, it seemed to me, had simply grown too big to be solved by human means.

Suddenly, everyone on the sidewalk came to a halt, and every face looked upward at once. And for the first time, I heard the words I'd later hear a thousand times or more:

"Look... up in the sky!"

I looked up, too, seeing something hovering in the sky, far above the city. At first I thought it was one of the seagulls I'd seen so many times in my childhood, flying over the ocean, drifting on currents of air. It moved that way, as if it could defy gravity and ride the wind.

Then I remembered that this was Kansas. There were no seagulls in Metropolis.

Whatever it was drifted a little lower. I squinted, and despite the brightness of the sky, and the blurring of my old eyes, I managed to make out the fact that it was blue, with red wings.

No, not wings. A long cape that rippled in the wind.

And then, as if it had suddenly noticed us staring at it, it streaked away, faster than anything in this world should be able to move. Suddenly I remembered last night, when I'd been saved by a blue and crimson streak.

I knew then that whatever it was, it had saved me. And I remembered the way it had come when I prayed for it, and remembered Who had sent it to protect me. I wondered if that was why it was flying over the city, because it had been sent to protect others. To protect Metropolis. To save us all.

I prayed that that was the case.

Slowly, the people around me began to move. Shaking my head slowly, like a man who's seen a miracle, I walked slowly down the sidewalk, toward the great cross of the ancient church that rose high into the air.

As it always did, the sight of the cross filled me with hope for the next life.

But for the first time in too long, I had hope for this life as well.

-The End-


Anonymous said...

Nice story.

Adrienne said...

nice little intro on how superman is first recieved by metropolis other than the "it's a bird, it's a plane" beginnings.

Anonymous said...

Very nice, and I love the way you show the virtue in restraint and control.

Tonya said...

Just got a chance to read this. So very moving and understated. It also shows that Superman's power lies, not with his strength, but with his control of that strength.

Kinda made me remember what it is what I love about Superman.

Creedog VanDrey said...

Before my Archangel Investigations series got canceled, I was writing a Christian-themed episode where Clark saves a minister from a dangerous man who has lost control of himself. Great authors think alike, I guess. Anyway, I really enjoyed this.

blackheart_me said...

I really like how this is written from a POV of just a civilian whose life was impacted by Superman. Love the faith that resounds in here, very sweet.