“Fear Factor”



Chapter One of Two:


As Clark walked up to Chloe in the Talon, I heard her saying, “I want it, I want it, I want it, I WANT IT!”


Clark pulled out a chair, sat down and said, “What do you want?  A little respect?”


Chloe said, “That too!  I’ve been trying to get an interview with old man Cole but he won’t do anything but peek out the window at me.”


Clark asked, “Who?”


Chloe answered, “Old man Cole?  Chief Walking Chicken?  The Hermit of Smallville?  He’s practically your neighbor.”


Clark said, “I haven’t a clue who you are talking about.”


Chloe said in disgust, “You are clueless!  If it’s ten miles away, you know all about it, but if it’s under your nose, you totally miss it.”  Chloe positioned her head below Clark’s face, looked up at him and said, “The best things are right under your nose, Clark!”


Proving Chloe’s point by not understanding her come on, Clark said, “So, clue me in.  Who is this Mr. Cole?


Chloe sat back in her chair and answered, “He’s a local legend.  He lives in a small stone house that’s so grown over you almost don’t see it.  He comes out for a walk everyday at dawn then goes back inside and stays in there.  He never comes to town or leaves his property – and I mean NEVER.  Whatever he needs, he grows in a small garden or has delivered to his house.  Apparently he has lived alone there FOREVER.  Either that or it’s like the old Phantom comic strip – the son takes over for the Dad and they look alike so people think it’s one immortal guy rather than generations of the same family.  But there has never been a sign of a woman living there or any children, so it looks like it’s been the same man living there for generations.  Meteors won’t explain this one!  Some people claim that he is a Native American.  But he doesn’t look like one to me.  I staked out his property and have seen him a few times.  I SWEAR the man looks like a bear!  He’s got jet black hair that is longer than I’ve ever seen on a man before.  His facial hair makes it hard to see anything but a little bit of his cheeks and the tip of his nose.  His beard covers his shirt.  He walks slowly and carefully around his yard on a path that is deeply rutted from his footsteps, but when I’ve approached him, he jack rabbits inside.  Rumor has it that he’s very friendly to delivery people but stand offish.  People whose judgment I trust tell me that he seems like he’s afraid.”


Clark asked, “Of what?”


Chloe answered, “Of everyone and everything.”


Clark said, “So let me re-cap.  There is an apparently immortal man, possibly Native American who looks like a bear living near me?”


Chloe said, “Well, that’s the cliff notes version.”


Clark asked, “If he doesn’t leave his property, how does he have an income to pay for property taxes and whatever?”


Chloe answered, “I hear he’s sold off property.  I did some digging and, if you go back far enough in the records, any land around here was once owned by him.  He owned land as far away as Metropolis.  He sold the land to the Smalls to build this town.  A coin collector in town goes out on a regular basis to buy rare coins off of him, so he probably has a good stash of money in his mattress or something.”


Clark said, “And this is common knowledge?  That could be dangerous for him.  He’s probably feeble if he’s even a tenth the age you think he is.  Someone could easily rob him and no one would know for days, weeks or maybe even months!”


Chloe said, “You know, maybe he is just afraid of smart, gorgeous, perky females.  Maybe he would let you interview him.  I’m told I should delegate more.  I want that interview!  Get it for me Kent!”


Clark answered, “Yes, Sir, Chief!”


Chloe said, “Don’t call me “Chief.”  I’ll ride shotgun.  Let’s go now.”


Clark answered, “Yes, your Perkiness -- right away.”


Chloe said, “I think I prefer Chief.”


Clark and Chloe left the Talon together.  A man who had been at a table next to theirs got up, threw a couple dollars on the table and patted the bulge under his coat for reassurance.  He then left the Talon quickly, looked around until he caught sight of Clark and Chloe and began to follow them stealthily.







“Fear Factor”


Chapter Two of Two:



Soon Chloe was knocking at Mr. Cole’s door.  There was a shuffle of feet inside and then a pair of eyes peeking out of the window.  Chloe waved at the window and bounced a bit in anticipation of finally getting this story.  But as she watched, the window drapes caught fire.  There was more commotion inside and a blast from a fire extinguisher put out the flames.  Clark went to the window and peered in.  He was started when a face thrust itself up against the inside of the window.  The face was covered with hair and the eyes were bugged out in shock.  The man shouted, “DAD!  Is that you Dad?!”  In a flash, the door was flung open and the man had Clark in a bear hug.  Clark could hardly breathe.  A lesser man would have been crushed like a cheap, empty pop can.  After a few moments the man let go, looked Clark up and down and said, “Daddy, you’re a sight for sore eyes!  I never thought I’d see you again after all this time!”


Clark was thinking, “What an absolute nut case this guy is,” but he said, “I’m not your father, Mr. Cole.  My friend and I represent a newspaper.  We sure would like to come in for a few minutes to talk with you about your life for a story we would like to write.”


Cole shook his head a bit.   He said, “I can’t understand how you look so much like my Dad.  You MUST be a relative.  Maybe Dad had some more kids after he left here.  He’s been gone for more years than I can remember.  He wanted to see more of the world.  He said there was more to the universe than a small house in the middle of Louisiana.”


Clark said, “This is Kansas, Sir.  Smallville, Kansas.”


Cole answered, “Sure, it is NOW, but it was Louisiana back when the government bought it from that French fella.  What’s his name?  Blownapart?  It doesn’t pay to keep up with what they call things.  The name changes, but it’s still the same place.  I think Daddy called this area “New Can Do” or something like that.  Then Mr. Small bought some land from me and called it “Smallville.”  Before you know it, Metropolis will grow right over Smallville and Smallville will just be a suburb.  I don’t care much as long as they keep their distance.”


Clark tried to sound sincere as he said, “This is REALLY interesting.  Would it be OK to come in and talk with you a while?  I’m Clark Kent and this is Chloe Sullivan.”


Cole looked towards Chloe and then away quickly.  He said, “It’s fine for you to come in seeing as you are probably kin and all, but women are dangerous.  They’re real fire starters, they are.  And if you get too close to fire, you get burned.  And burns are painful – so I’ve heard.  I’ll let her stay a while if she puts on some more clothes.  I don’t want to see any skin if that’s possible.  The pretty ones are the worst, and she’s a pretty one.  There’s a fire every time she’s here – and she’s here a lot.  I don’t mean any offense.  I  NEVER want to offend!  People take offense and they start to fight.  And getting hit and hitting others is painful – so I’ve heard.”


Clark said, “I have a coat in the car that will be baggy on her.  And I’ll have her remove her make-up before we set foot inside.  Would that be acceptable?”


Cole said, “OK.  Come inside when you’re ready.  I won’t stand out in the sun much longer.  Sun gives you sun burns and skin cancer.  That kind of thing is painful – so I’ve heard.”


Cole went inside and Clark began to walk Chloe back to his truck.  Chloe slugged Clark in the arm and said, “Clark!  I can't remove make-up because I’m not wearing any.  What’s up with all this sexist BS?”


Clark asked, “You want this story or not?  We can drive away right now if you chose or you can rub a little dirt on your face and try to tone down your sex appeal if that’s at all possible.”


Chloe said, “OK, OK.  I’m not one who likes hiding my light under a barrel, but it’s not much to ask in return for this story.”


Soon they were inside.  Everything was heavily padded – the chairs, the walls, the floor.  In a quick tour of the kitchen, Chloe found that there was nothing sharp – no knives or forks.  There was no stove.  There was a microwave oven with a lead box rigged to cover it while it was in use.  In the living room, there was a 5 inch television set.  The chair pointed at it was a good 20 feet away from it.  Clark pointed to the TV and asked, “How can you see that small of a TV set at that distance?”


Cole answered, “I’ve got really good eyesight.  And you don’t want to sit too close to those things.  They give off radiation, you know?  Radiation causes cancer and that’s painful – so I’ve heard.”


Chloe asked, “Why no stove?  Why no knives?”


Cole answered without looking directly at Chloe, “Hot food can burn your mouth.  You can touch a cook top and get burned.  And burns are painful – so I’ve heard.  I heat things good in the microwave oven but shield it to prevent radiation from getting to me.  I already told you about radiation.  I heat the food to kill bacteria, because bacteria can give you food poisoning which makes you sick.  And being sick is painful – so I’ve heard.  I wait two hours for the food to cool and wear heavy gloves to take the food to the refrigerator.  I leave it in the fridge overnight before I eat it.  I try to eat soft foods to minimize choke hazards.  I’d smash it or grind it but that could lead to me pinching my finger or getting cut.  Those things are painful – so I’ve heard.  Sometimes I pay people to grind up my food for me.”


Clark asked, “Don’t you ever come into town?”


Cole answered, “Well, people get sick and sickness spreads by contact.  If I was to go into town and get touched or breathed on I could get sick and being sick is painful – so I’ve heard.”


This guy was starting to grate on Clark so Clark asked him, “So you’ve heard?  So you’ve heard?  You’ve heard about being burnt or cut or sick or in a fight?  Have you ever EXPERIENCED anything?  Anything at all?  Have you ever experienced physical pain?  Or have you just been told about it?”


Cole said, “GOD FORBID!  I tremble at the thought!”


Clark said, “Really?  NEVER?  Not once?  I’m no expert, but it seems to me that the efforts you go through to protect yourself are more of a pain than whatever pain you might experience if you just lived like everybody else does.  You put yourself through REAL grief just to avoid something that MIGHT hurt.  I don't think you realize how little most minor injuries hurt or how quickly the pain passes.”


Cole said, “You're right.  I don’t KNOW.  But I've been told.  When I was a kid, I saw other kids who got hurt.  They wailed and cried.  The pain must have been horrible the way they carried on.  And whenever I meet people, they end up telling me about their aches and pains.  And if I get to know them, they eventually die.  I think they die from the pain!  When I was a child, I knew that someday, I would get hurt and kind of wondered about it.  Then when it didn’t happen, I started worrying about how I would handle it.  Nobody thinks anything about a baby crying the first time they get a pinched finger, but imagine getting your first pinch at 16 and crying like a baby in front of people.  I’d rather die!  By the time I was 18, I couldn’t think of much else but how badly pain might really hurt and how I would react.  I got my nerve up one day and took a hammer and decided to hit my hand with it so I would know how it felt.  I couldn’t watch so I turned my head and swung the hammer down on my hand.  No matter how I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to swing the hammer hard enough to hurt myself.  I went through 3 or 4 hammers and gave up.  So year after year, as I waited for the day when I would finally feel pain, I got more and more scared.  I’ve kind of learned to live with it.  I’ve gotten into a routine.  My Dad wanted me to go exploring with him.  He finally gave up waiting on me to grow out of my fear and go with him.  Then, he left without me.”


Clark said, “That must have been rough.  How old were you when he left you?”


Cole said, “Oh, maybe 60 -- maybe 70.”


Clark said, “Wasn’t your Dad a little too old to go out exploring when he left?”


Cole said, “Well, are YOU too old?”


Clark said, “If anything, I may be too young,”


Cole said, “Well, the day Dad left, he looked exactly like you do today.  EX-ACT-LY.  And he held off having kids until he was well over a hundred – or so he told me.  But he was prone to lying about his age – always exaggerating to make people think he was a lot younger.  Hey, you know, my Dad and I looked a lot like each other before my beard started growing in, so you and I may look a lot alike too.”


Clark asked, “Why don’t you shave so we can see?’


Cole said, “I can’t do that!  And I might get cut.  And that hurts – so I’ve heard.”


Chloe said, “You can’t look that much like Clark.  I’ve heard you’re Native American.”


Cole said, “I’m about 3/4ths Native American.  My Grandfather – Lord knows what he was.  Dad claims his mother told him that Grandpa fell from the sky.   I think that’s something that Grandma just said because Grandpa up and left her to go back where he came from.  They even drew some pictures about him on the wall of a cave near here – so I’ve heard.  I’m not going into a cave.  I might fall down.  That would hurt, but probably wouldn’t hurt as bad as falling from the sky!  Now that would be PAINFUL!  And NOBODY needs to tell me that!”


Clark shivered involuntarily and said, “I’d have to agree with you there.”


Chloe said, “Clark, we’ll take you home and start padding your room when we’re done here -- but for now, don’t do anything to feed Mr. Cole’s unhealthy fears.  Look Mr. Cole, our bodies are designed to give us pain to warn us when we’re doing something we shouldn’t.  A lot of time, how much pain bothers you is based upon how much you pay attention to it.  I find bumps and bruises on my body all the time and I don’t know where they come from.  I am so intent on what I’m doing as I’m rushing around living my life that I don’t even notice when I bump into things and cut and bruise myself.  I burn my mouth on coffee all the time but I would willingly submit to torture rather than being without it.  I would and do deal with pain on a daily basis rather than hide away from life.  Sometimes it feels great to feel a pain knowing that you have worked hard and earned that feeling.  You haven’t felt really good until you have been in pain and gotten relief.  I would find being trapped at home unable to eat the food I want or enjoy the company of other people to be more painful than most of the bruises cuts and burns I have had in my life -- and this from a girl that has been pushed out a 3rd story window.  I looked in the mirror just yesterday and I have this huge bruise and I haven’t a clue how I got it.  It looks nasty but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  Here, I’ll show you.”  Chloe lifted Clark’s coat and her blouse to show her side.  She revealed a small portion of the side of her bra in the process.


Chloe didn’t see it, but Clark saw Cole’s eyes flash red and a quick jerk of Cole’s head before a chair burst into flames.  Each of the 3 grabbed one of the 40 or so fire extinguishers Cole had stationed around the room, but Cole was the first to get to the fire and put it out.  When they turned from looking at the burnt chair, the man from the Talon was standing there with a gun aimed in their direction.


The man said, “I’ve been waiting for you kids to leave but there are limits to my patience.  Hey Hairy, I understand you have a lot of money stashed here somewhere.  I want it.  Hurry up or I’ll shoot.  I’m a great shot and I can’t miss at this distance.  Anyone make a false move and I’ll start firing.”


Cole screamed, “DON’T SHOOT!”  I hear bullets REALLY hurt!”


Clark started to move towards the gunman.  Cole saw what Clark was doing and without hesitation jumped in front of Clark.  The gun man unloaded his gun into Cole’s chest.   Cole stood there in shock.  The gun man hesitated for a moment then rushed at Cole and landed a punch to the gut, a right cross to his chin and a knee heavily into his groin.  The gunman fell over in pain while Cole stood there trying to understand the situation.  Then Cole lifted the man with one hand as if he were grabbing a softball and effortlessly threw him 20 feet across the room and into a wall.  The man bounced of the wall and landed unconscious on the floor.


After a few moments of silence in the room, Cole shouted, “THEY LIED!  THEY ALL LIED!  It didn’t hurt at all.  Bullets don’t hurt -- they tickle.  That knee to the groin felt good -- REALLY GOOD!  Those cop and robber shows on TV.  They’re all fake!  Those liars!  Those dirty liars.  Hiding here all those years when it was all a big lie.  Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!”


Clark mumbled, “Monkey’s uncle no – mine maybe.”


Cole said, “By the way Miss, if you want to tell my story, my name’s pronounced “Koh-EL” not “Koh-UL” like it’s spelled.  I never spelled it at all until people at the bank needed me to put my name on a deed to sign it over – and they chose the spelling.  Anyway, now that I know that all that talk about pain that people have been feeding me for centuries is nothin’ more than a bunch of buffalo leavings, I’m not sticking around here another minute.  Daddy, here I come!”


In the blink of an eye, Cole had grabbed 2 big suitcases from under his bed and disappeared in a blur.  Chloe looked around and said, "What the heck just happened?!”


Clark answered, “I haven’t got a clue.”


Chloe asked, “Conveniently clueless again, Clark?  You know, after what I just witnessed, I would bet that Cole is the mysterious person who has been saving everyone’s butt the last few years.  As fast as he moved, he could come and go and no one would have even seen him.  I bet he’s headed to Metropolis.  He’ll probably shave his beard so that no one recognizes him and start fighting bad guys now that he knows that bullets only “tickle” him.”


Clark said, “That’s some imagination you have there Chloe.  But, since Cole supposedly looks like me, if you ever see someone fighting bad guys who is very strong and very fast and looks like me, remember that it’s probably Cole.”


Chloe asked, “Why would I ever think it would be you, Mr. Weak at the Knees around Lana, Bench-warmer Kent?  I, for one, can see what’s under my nose.  You may be an all-around nice guy, but you’re no super-hero.  And, as for my imagination, sometimes a little imagination let’s you see how the pieces of a story might fit together so you can properly direct your investigation.”


Clark said, “Whatever you say, Chief.”


Chloe said, “Don’t call me Chief!”



The End