His mother's arms are thin as branches.
She holds Lex tightly, like winter's coming, and gives off the smell of dead leaves. Every time she breathes, Lex hears a dry crackling, so he keeps his own breaths shallow to keep her whole for awhile longer. Her hugs come often now, at unexpected times; she wanders into his room at night, ghostly in a long white nightgown, and he wakes from a dream where the oak outside his window has broken into the room.
"My pretty boy," she croons. "My beautiful son." Other words follow in the same singsong voice, until it sounds like she's singing a lullaby.
Every time there's a little less of her, and soon she'll fade to nothing.
Flying over gold and green squares, the helicopter roars like a lion. Like Lex's father, who growls at him when his eyes shut, but it's scary in the air with nothing to hold you up but scraps of metal. Lex eyes his father's hands on The Daily Planet, fingers long and thin as pencils, and wishes he were a newspaper.
The pilot shouts suddenly, and Lex yelps, flashing on a crash, blood and broken bodies, and gropes for his father's hand, but is waved off. Instead, Lex reaches into his pocket for his inhaler, but doesn't take it out.
He feels the sigh that smells faintly of coffee.
"Face your fear, Lex. And leave that goddamn inhaler alone. There's nothing wrong with you that a little discipline won't cure."
When Lex pictures Fear, it looks like a dead tree with newspaper billowing around it.
While his father wheels and deals with a group of farmers, a scarecrow speaks to Lex from the cornfield.
"Help me," it says. "Please."
It must be a trick: if Lex listens, the thing will come alive, catch him and tie him to the wooden planks. Lex knows all about tricks from his father, who once drove him to the center of town then told him to get out. As Lex stood on the street corner, grey-faced buildings looming around him, his father said, "Now find your own way home," then drove off without looking back.
Hearing the words he was too scared to speak in the city, Lex runs now as he did then, runs hard through the forest of corn, but his lungs close like he's drowning, and as he yanks out the inhaler, snuffling desperately, he trips, landing face-first in mud. Dazed, Lex sits up slowly, inching back until he bumps into something solid, and rests against it, pretending the wood is a warm, undying body.
Then the voice speaks again. "Hey, kid."
He turns, looking up, sees bound feet, bound hands, a wooden cross. It's another scarecrow, only this one is a real boy, an "S" curling on his chest like a snake.
"Help me. Help me, please."
There's a sudden roar, and Lex thinks it's his father, telling him not to be weak, not to be scared like a girl, but it's God this time, turning the sky black with smoke over the scareboy's shoulder. Rocks pelt the earth and the air sounds noisy as a helicopter. Then the chaos directs, heading straight for him, like the sky's falling and wants to catch him in its smoky arms.
Lex runs again, but he's not fast enough.
A funny smell tickles Lex awake, earth mixed with animals. There's a hot burst of pain and panic, dim memory of stones thrown from Heaven, disgust on his father's face. His head is cold and fuzzy, and even the low hum of the engine hurts. Because his father is holding him, Lex decides he must be dying and forces his eyes open.
A little boy sits nearby, with messy black hair and no shirt. Maybe he's hurt like Lex, except that he's smiling, the biggest grin Lex has ever seen, just for him, like they're friends, and he's almost happy until he realizes it must be a trick. While he waits for the grin to turn into something else, the boy reaches out and gently strokes Lex's head, then his cheek.
The pain fades like the little boy has caught it in his hand, leaving Lex warm and very sleepy. Only his mouth feels funny, stretched into an odd shape, and as he drifts off Lex realizes he's smiling, too.
The next time he meets the boy, years later, Lex hits him with his car. For a long moment they're both flying, then a sickening jolt as they hurtle into water, drowning together.
This turns out to be another trick, only maybe not a bad one, because Lex wakes up alive, coughing water, and the boy's leaning over him. Except the boy's not really a boy anymore; his face has new planes and curves, and he's so tall that he seems like a giant or a god. Even stranger, there's no anger or disgust as Lex stares up at him, just this warm intense concern, like he's the one who's sorry.
His name is Clark Kent, and nothing about him makes sense. He's beautiful but doesn't know it, saves people for a hobby, and tells more truths and lies than anyone Lex has ever met.
One night Lex finds Clark in a cornfield, tied to a wooden cross, a fact so confusing that Lex doesn't even run, just helps him down. Afterward, Lex knows this wasn't a dream only because the night didn't end with them lying naked in the damp field, his mouth on Clark's, his cock inside him.
But Clark is the one who runs through the cornfield, leaving Lex alone.
Lex's head hurts again. They've played a trick on him, all of them in it together, all against him, his father, the shrink, Morgan Edge, even Clark, who's supposed to be his friend. He wants to box his hurt and give it to them like a bomb, shatter them with it. The gun will do, and he's ready to shoot Clark, stop his pretty lying mouth.
He nearly does, except that he hears the car engine and knows that Edge is escaping, so Lex leaves Clark lying on the floor surrounded by the meteor rocks that spilled from Edge's necklace like a broken rosary.
Then he's outside under the sun, another trick, because evil's supposed to die in the light, and there's a car coming at him, Edge behind the wheel, gunning the engine for a mechanical death. Lex doesn't run. But Clark, who never makes sense, bursts from the house, knocks Lex to the ground, and throws himself in front of it, and there's a crash, a tearing, grinding sound of metal meeting --
Then Lex is staring up at Clark, who stands over him, and the truth is there for anyone to see. The light suddenly makes sense, everything does, the pieces of the world falling back into place, and Lex, who hasn't had an asthma attack in years, finds his lungs closing up, not like he's dying, but like he's about to be born.
"I was right all along," he gasps. "You're not even human."
It's the most perfect second of his life, and he's about to reach for Clark, wipe away the blood near his mouth, except Clark's looking at him in horror, like this isn't a garden but a cornfield.
Then Clark is gone.
Lex's world has gone institutional green and quiet as a Kansas cornfield. He wants to run, but there's nowhere to go, and when he stretches to move his hands, finds them tightly bound. Although he hears crooning, a lullaby, he's all alone.
Lex realizes that he has become the scarecrow, and the crooning turns into a scream.
The bomb is in pieces, and Lex lies on the warehouse floor, winded and bruised from Superman's throw. This is nothing new, and it will end like it always does: Lex locked in institutional green while he spits words of revenge until he's free to try and destroy his enemy all over again. Superman stands over him, staring down, like he's waiting for Lex to speak.
Lex's new hand aches like the cancer's back, and he raises it without thinking, trying to shake off the pain. As he does this, Superman's expression cracks, the bland, smug, superior, condescending smoothness breaking over something softer and young.
"Lex," he says, and bends to pass his hand gently over Lex's cheek. "Are you okay?"
He opens his mouth to curse Clark, tell him to fuck off and die, alien freak bastard liar, but his tongue plays a trick. Or maybe he's just too tired to lie after years of it. "Help me."
The Scarecrow. (c) Thamiris, November 2003
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