Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Inner Demons - Chapter 1 (Lost)

Lex turned and stopped-short at the scene of chaos before him. What must have once been a placid glade lay in shambles. Tree limbs broken askew, a tent half-shredded, and the debris of a ransacked campsite framed a prone and crumpled form that he only recognized from the all-too-familiar, farm-functional jeans and t-shirt.

Shouldering through the branches, Lex ran to his prone friend; quickly and thoroughly checked for wounds, breaks, and cuts. Then, after carefully rolling Clark over, Lex fell back on his heels in surprise.

Clark’s usually hale and healthy, farm-boy features were so sunken and almost skeletal that he seemed hardly recognizable (even though Lex had seen him just the previous earlier when Clark delivered the standing order of organic vegetables from the Kent’s farm). As Lex pulled out his cell phone and flipped open the cover, he suddenly realized that Clark was silently moving his lips.

“Don’t move, Clark. I can get your parents and a medical team here, in minutes, by helicopter.”

Clark’s fingers closed on Lex’s sleeve with surprising strength for his appearance – in place as he tried to speak. As he shook his head with clear desperation, Clark’s eyes practically begged Lex not to call.

The voice that finally escaped was a hollow, scratchy, barely human whisper that Lex had to bend close to hear: “Lex.” Clark struggled to force some breath into his words. Clark’s shallow whisper finally came out as a half-moan, “Lex, no.” Stunned, Lex stopped to stare into his friends half-shut eyes, but thinking back on how the Kent’s had addressed some of Clark’s past injuries he continued, “Okay, just your parents then.”

Clark shook his head again, and Lex couldn’t believe that his always-earnest friend, who seemed to share his closest confidences with only his parents, was insistent on shutting them out when he so obviously needed their help. Lex doubted that he could get Clark to explain, but if he could at least he would have a better idea of what was needed. In any event, he was almost certain that the medics would figure somewhere prominently. Pausing for a moment, he glanced around the camp finally spotting a punctured canteen, and asked, “Clark, do you think you can take some water?”

Clark weakly nodded and closed his eyes – satisfied for the moment that Lex wouldn’t call his parents. Clark’s eyes remained closed when Lex returned with the canteen, but he compliantly swallowed several sips of water that Lex slowly poured. Eventually, he turned his head away and pulled his arm up to cover his eyes. Obviously, Clark had no intention of talking… but his pale complexion, gauntness, and obvious weakness were too suggestive of a possibly dangerous injury for Lex to let him just lay as he was.

“Clark? What happened? Where are you hurt?” Lex asked insistently.
The lifeless tone of Clark’s voice when he at last answered concerned Lex more than anything else did. Even when Clark had been furious or accusing of Lex, his voice usually carried undertones of innocence, naiveté, hopeful denial, even betrayal or alienation. But now, while Clark’s answer had gained some strength and steadiness, it was still scratchy and had a hollowness that even physical injury should not explain.

“Lex… nothing happened. I’m not hurt…just…” Clark paused, clearly struggling to think of a story Lex would accept, then continued, “just go home, Lex… Please.” Unable to think of anything else to say, Clark simply dropped his arm and stared up anxiously.

In his friend’s eyes, Lex finally glimpsed meager traces of Clark’s former intensity. But even these seemed smothered by some oppressive and overwhelming influence. A sudden understanding rocked Lex, and he knew with absolute certainty that whatever was happening to Clark physically was merely symptomatic of a deeper aspect plaguing him on a far deeper, far more fragile level – in his mind or his soul. Coming to an immediate decision, Lex offered Clark an alternative.

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