By Jerry A. Boggs
Sometimes divulging a secret and expressing your feelings
are a struggle even if you’re stronger than a bull elephant.
August 2017 – 2,567 words, 15-20 min.
SHE roared her company’s black SUV into the parking lot facing the zoo’s main entrance and hit the brakes hard. She tossed aside her seat belt.
“By now every efffing animal’s on the loose. Do you have a gun?”
“I, uh, don’t need a gun,” he said. It was becoming too nerve-racking to keep his secret from her. “There’s something I–”
“What? Sheesh. Got mine. Didn’t it occur to you how dangerous this would be?”
“–something I want to talk to you about.”
She gave him a sharp look. “You pick now to discuss something? Sometimes I’m surprised Perry hired you. No. Shocked.”
He smiled. “Both of us may be out of a job when he finds out we’re here.”
“Which he’ll do very shortly. But when he sees my vids — hat tip to my tipster — he’ll be all lovey-dovey.”
“If you say so. You’ve known him longer.”
She sighed. “Look, are you trying to tell me you’d like to stay in the car? Okay. Be a little safer.”
“You said it when we left: ‘Two heads and two bodies are better than one, especially in a crisis–”’
She wagged a finger. “Sometimes. Depends.”
“Your eyes gave me the distinct impression you definitely wanted me along.”
Something caught her attention. Her finger shot forward. “There!”
About 75 yards inside the Metropolis City Zoo’s wide main entrance, on the other side of the Safari Cafe, men, women, and children scattered in a burst of screams. Behind them a massive gray shape trotted into view. It bellowed and flung its trunk up and down as if to shoo everyone out of its path.
She swore under her breath, gave him a sidelong glance. “Where the hell’s Superman when you need him?”
Before he could say anything, she shoved the door open and scrambled out. As people bolted away from the angry, rampaging African bull elephant, Lois, in her burgundy Tahari ASL pantsuit, raced toward it. Her phone was hoisted and live-streaming video to the office.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. He opened the door part way. “Second thoughts, Lois!” he yelled. “I’ll stay here and notify the police!”
Her finger bolted high and spun circles. “That’s my Clark!”
The elephant pulled up and pivoted in Lois’ direction. Storms of dust billowed out from underneath its feet. It furled and unfurled its trunk, trumpeting. Ears extended straight out, eyes opened wide, it lumbered fast toward Lois. This was no mock charge. This elephant meant business.
Clark slipped out of the SUV and hurried into the tall, dense skip laurel hedge bordering a nearby side of the parking lot. A fraction of a second later, the hedge exploded open. Superman launched faster than a MIM-104 Patriot missile straight up into the sparsely cloudy, early July sky. A torrent of leaf fragments ripped upward in the vacuum for some 50 feet. From a mile high, he arced down over the zoo from a direction opposite the parking lot. His boots slammed the earth midway between Lois and the hurtling elephant. A tremor fast radiated out across the ground.
It worked on Lois. She teetered for a second and stopped. But the unfazed animal picked up its pace, perhaps further enraged by this confrontational, strange-looking character in a cobalt-blue outfit and crimson cape. It seemed determined to take him out.
“Whoa, take it easy, big buddy,” Superman said, “let’s not get carried away here.”
In a flash, he positioned himself underneath the elephant. He arched his back up against its belly and spread his arms to distribute the animal’s weight and minimize its discomfort. After easing the elephant up, its legs and trunk flailing, he hauled it off and alighted in the zoo’s nearby Trails of Africa.
He zip-flew to the Trails gates and saw the locks had been shattered. So it was gunfire he’d heard several times earlier but had pegged as fireworks. A lesson there for this time of the year. He closed the gates and fused them together with a fiery blast of his powerful laser-like vision.
Cruising over the zoo at 200 feet, he spotted a gray-back on the loose outside the Congo Gorilla Forest. It galloped on all fours toward a fleeing cluster of zoo visitors. He zoomed down.
“Howdy there, handsome. I know your arms are strong enough to handle your 400 pounds.”
He took hold of the perplexed gorilla’s wrist, lifted the animal slowly into the air. It remained motionless, perhaps too dumb-founded and afraid to move. After Superman carried it back to the Gorilla Forest, he returned to the group that had fled.
They shrieked and ran away from him.
A heavy weight crashed into his back. A huge paw slid off his shoulder. He swiveled to see collapsing on the ground a large, reddish-maned lion, knocked unconscious, its chest heaving in and out. It might as well have hurled itself against a titanium Hoover Dam.
He felt a tickling on his arm and side, followed a millisecond later by a loud clack-clack-clack-clack. Turning at the waist, he spotted an AR-15 twenty yards away. It had made the same sound his super-hearing had mistaken for fireworks a few minutes before they left the office. Flattened bullets rained to the ground at his feet.
The shooter stood straddle-legged beside the huge, billowing oak tree that had hidden him. He was bearded, long-haired, and wore a green baseball cap turned around backwards.
He swung the AR-15 up. “Damn you, what alerted you?”
“Did you think everyone would stay quiet with animals running amok?”
“You calling me stupid?” The man cursed and took aim.
Superman looked away, then back, a brow knitted. “Seriously?”
Scowling, the vermillion-faced man repeatedly pulled the trigger until he emptied his clip.
Superman wanted to prevent deflected bullets from striking people and animals, including the knocked-out lion. He seized the bullets in the air at faster-than-lightning speed. He crushed them in his hands, sprinkled the powder in front of him.
In less than a second, the man’s weapon was on the ground, the barrel tied in a knot. Superman held the grimacing villain by the upper arm as three black-uniformed police officers ran up.
For the next 20 minutes, after telling frenzied-looking zoo personnel “I got this,” he transported back to their respective zoo homes the rest of the escaped animals: a rolling troop of chimps, a giraffe, one rhino, an ostrich, two tigers, several zebras, a lion, and one genuinely ticked-off hippo.
Back with Lois, Superman hovered five feet off the ground in front of her. She’d been busy streaming videos of his airborne rescues.
“Superman! Thank Heavens! What would I do without you?”
“My wild guess is you wouldn’t put yourself in harm’s way like this.”
She dropped her gaze and gave her shoe a little push across the ground. “You’re probably right. So.”
“Dwight Napoleon,” Superman said. “Animal-rights activist turned extremist. Cares more about animals than humans. He’ll do serious time if he’s not insane.”
“I hear everything, Lois.” He drifted upward, paused 15 feet above the ground. “Was doing a fly-over listening to the city. People at the zoo were yelling for help.” He tilted his head back and pushed a fist up. “Gotta run.”
Pulling in a breath, Lois peered up and squinted. He disappeared into a cloud before she exhaled.
In the parking lot, Clark stood next to the SUV as Lois jogged up, pocketing her phone, her hair a scraggly bush, strands in her eyes.
To the side of Clark, a man and a little girl, about four years old, came into view and strode across the lot toward the zoo.
The girl had long russet hair and wore a white dress adorned with butterflies. Her attention fell on Lois and Clark. She did a few excited up-and-down hops. “I know where Mr. Superguy lives!”
“Oh?” Lois said, smiling. She moved closer to the girl and bent at the waist. “Where’s that, sweetheart? Where does he live?”
The girl pointed at the hedge. “In the bushes over there!”
Her dark-haired dad, 30-ish, with a fashionable black stubble on his face, stifled a laugh. “Little Miss Active Imagination. AI for short.”
Still bent over, Lois bounced her gaze off the man back to the girl. “Why do you say he lives in the bushes?” She looked over to Clark for a second. Her expression, to Clark, was neutral.
“I saw him zoom straight up outta there!” Her finger illustrated with verve.
Lois put her hand to her chest. “My goodness! And did daddy see him, too?”
The man shook his head, trying not to laugh again.
“Well,” Lois said, “I’m glad you told me that, darling. I’m going to remember it. Thanks so much.”
The man took his daughter’s hand, switching his gaze back and forth between the two Daily Planet reporters. “Do you think it’s safe to take her into the zoo now?”
“Sure do,” Lois said, “thanks to ‘Mr. Superguy.’”
The girl and her dad ambled off. Every few seconds, the girl’s excitement must have gotten the better of her, and she stopped to do her energetic, in-place hopping up and down.
Lois took a breath. She turned to Clark and smiled. “So.”
“You don’t actually believe her, do you?” He resettled his glasses with thumb and forefinger.
Her smile widened to a grin. “AI.”
He bobbed his chin toward the zoo. “Scary, eh?” He looked away for a full five seconds, then back. “Uh, is this a good time to tell you what I—?”
“By the way, we still have our jobs. Pretty sure Perry’s jumping up and down like that little girl.”
“Good. Good. Good.” He pushed his glasses farther up the bridge of his nose. “Uh, look, Lois, there’s something I need to tell you. The time seems, uh, timely.” To keep his hands from fidgeting, he focused on her peaceful blue eyes. “I’m, uh, not what you think I am. I’m not.”
“Oh I know. You’re really not a wilting squish afraid of your own shadow.”
He chewed his lip. “No. I’m, uh, actually not the person you think–”
“What I mean is….” The words froze in his throat. “What–what I mean is, I’m somebody else. I’m two people, two different people. Entirely different.”
She smiled. “Sometimes I am, too. Oh, first can I tell—”
“Look, what I’m walking the long way around the barn to say is—”
He exhaled and dropped his shoulders. Why did this have to be so difficult? “What were you going to say?”
“No no no. Go ahead.”
He gave his forehead a brisk up-and-down rub with his fingertips. “Before I tell you, though, you have to promise to never tell a soul. Not one.”
“Hmmm. Sounds pretty heavy. All righty, I promise. Now just say it.”
He sucked in air, closed his eyes for a long moment. “You know me as Clark. That’s one of the people I am.” He looked away again. “The other person I am….”
Her hand appeared on his arm.
“The other person I am is—”
He gasped. “Wha—? How did—? When—?”
“Y’know, sometimes you can spot a pattern without looking for one, no matter how clever it is. Sorta like if you dial a new phone number enough times, pretty soon you know it by heart without trying to. Your pattern was easier than that. Not very clever at all. So many times you conveniently disappeared right before ‘Superguy’” — she couldn’t squelch a giggle — “before your other self showed up.”
He put his hands on his hips and looked away, keeping a straight face. “Not clever, huh? Lucky you it’s pretty hard to bruise me emotionally, too.”
She stepped in closer, grinning. “I’ve just been playing along, pretending while you pretended, teasing you about things — you know, like when I asked if you had a gun. It’s sorta been fun. I’ll miss that.”
“I guess this is where I’d feel embarrassed and blush, if I weren’t who I–”
“Now you know why I wanted you to come along today. I had planned to tell you, away from the office, I knew who you were.”
She lowered her head, looking sheepish. “I wanted you along also because of the danger, which Perry knew about, too. And when I saw that elephant, I realized I could get a great vid, a close-up of it charging me head-on. That was impulsive and selfish. I used you, and I’m sorry. I feel like I cheated and took an advantage the other reporters don’t have. I won’t do that again. I’ll explain everything to Perry. He’ll throw his arms around and grouse for five minutes ’cause he’s expected to–“
“Then go on a smoke break. Powerless against his reporter extraordinaire.”
She reached, pulled his glasses off, and slid them into his shirt pocket.
“Soon as I realized it, you looked just like him. How dumb could I be not to see past a different hair style and a pair of glasses with no prescription?”
She raked hair out of her eyes and bit her lip.
“No, I wasn’t dumb. I never really looked at you. You had the perfect dweeb act going, complete with those doltish ‘uhs’ every few seconds. I mean, who gives dweebs more than a glance, right?”
Her eyes strolled over his shoulders and chest. “My God, even that magnificent physique failed to get my attention. Your behavior and bumbling way of talking were the perfect mask. For a while.”
He nodded. “Knew you’d see it some day. You and I — for a couple of years now — you and I’ve been like a pair of old shoes, more together than apart.”
She held her gaze steady on him. “There’s something else I’ve wanted to say to you for about as long–“
“Wait! I almost forgot the most important part. I have a Part Two.”
“I have a Part Two, too—”
“You see, from the very first day I laid eyes on you—”
“Me too. By the way,” she said through a laugh, “that fly-over business?”
Why did she seem as nervous as he? How long would this conversation roll in 20 directions like a tumbleweed chased by a dirt devil?
“I lie only to protect my identity.” He cleared his throat twice. “Now, the other thing I wanted to tell you is— Wait, what? What do you mean you too?”
“Lois, are you saying—?”
“Uh huh, ever since I knew who you were and really looked at you.” She paused, cocked her head back. “But you know who you remind me of right at this moment all of a sudden? Somebody who’s about to give me a hug.”
He edged closer, brought his hands up around her back, and pulled her in. He felt her arms encircle his waist.
She peered up at him, one eye scrunched shut against the sky’s brilliance.
“Did I thank you for almost knocking me off my feet back there?”
“A pair of old shoes, eh? Yes, I love you, too, SuperClark. And besides dropping the dweebish ‘uhs’ when we’re alone, there are two things you can do that’ll make me love you even more.”
“Work on my similes. What’s the other?”
“Stop living in bushes.”
Bull elephant: Flickr.com
Superman: From a poster; see SuperHeroHype.com