Shadows : Chapter 1a

Clark sat quietly, watching the sky slip across the barrier between dawn and dusk. He was at the Beanery, which felt a bit like a betrayal but he'd wanted a chance to think without interruptions, and these days the Beanery was sparsely populated at best. He couldn't help but smile at the irony while still feeling a bit sorry for the store's owner.

He was fairly sure Lana was working, but he hadn't actually talked to her in several days so he couldn't be sure. Lex was in Metropolis for the weekend. Pete had mentioned something about homework, which seemed kind of odd for a Sunday afternoon. And Chloe…

Chloe was the reason he was sitting alone at the Beanery watching the sun go down.

In the past week he'd seen allot more of Chloe than in the previous several months combined. Nothing serious just… hanging out… getting comfortable with each other in a new context. And it was good, he just needed to take a little time to himself and digest the implications. Someplace neither his friends nor his parents would look to find him.

Poor Beanery, how the mighty have fallen.

The sun had somehow slipped away, gone except for a slight glow on the horizon. Darkness had fallen over Smallville, but the exact moment of its arrival remained unfathomed. His coffee seemed to have managed a similar transition from full to empty and Clark turned to try and catch the waitress's eye.

A piercing scream sounded out in the distance, almost entirely muffled by the glass windows of the coffee shop.

It took him ten seconds to exit quickly but inconspicuously from the shop, none of the other patrons had apparently been able to hear the sound. It only took him about two seconds to travel the six blocks between the Beanery and the source. Not that he was counting.

The scream had come from a small hotel, one of the few in Smallville bigger than a bed and breakfast. Oddly out of place was the large coach bus parked conspicuously beside it, alone managing to take up almost a quarter of the parking lot. There was no sign of a disturbance, and no sound except for the imagined echo still reverberating inside his head.

Clark focussed… looking deeper….

The hotel owner was sitting at the front desk reading something, Clark couldn't tell what, it looked like it might be a magazine. Almost every room was occupied, some watching T.V… some sleeping… some doing things he felt dirty for spying on. No one inside looked hurt. With a puzzled frown he turned his gaze towards the bus.

There was someone in the bus. Two someones; one standing tensely and the other lying on the ground in a crumpled heap. A half-second, at most, put him in front of its doors, which he then harshly pried open. He lunged inside to confront the occupants only to find it vacant. There was no one there.

What the hell?

Clark slowly walked up the isle, his nerves tightly wound and his thought slightly jumbled. He knew what he'd seen, someone had to be in the bus. But they weren't.

It was the slick feeling of something wet under his shoe that brought him to a halt. He squinted as he tried to make out the color. It was red, a dark red that almost didn't show up in the darkness. The seats and floor in the tenth row were completely covered in blood.

When the police came they were, at first, skeptical. A scream only Clark had heard, and an unknown assailant and victim he couldn't even mention, these are not the things required to inspire confidence in authorities. The blood however, the blood they found very interesting, that and the fact that a room check revealed the conspicuous absence of the bus's driver. That was about the extent of the investigation he was allowed to overhear before his father picked him up.

On the ride home Clark provided his father with the details of what had happened, including the parts he'd had to leave out when talking to the police. His father's first response had been something along the lines of "Damn, just what we needed in Smallville. Another mystery."

Clark was inclined to agree with him.

The next morning at school he told Chloe and Pete the shortened version though, and Chloe had the exact opposite reaction.

"Mmm… and Smallville finally gets its very own murder mystery. A scream in the night, an unexplained pool of blood, you could write a book with this kind of material Clark." She grinned up at him and he couldn't help but grin back. No one could ever deny that she was enthusiastic.

"I don't know, personally I think we've already had our share of psychopaths." Pete chimed in.

"I've got to go with Pete on this one Chloe. Last night was weird. Why would someone kill a bus driver?"

"Maybe they thought his fares were too high." Chloe was in an exceptionally good mood that morning, as far as she was concerned the past week and a half had been bliss. Clarks frown only deepened though, whatever he'd seen the night before had obviously disturbed him. "Why are you so sure the bus driver is dead anyway? Maybe he was out having dinner and turned up this morning to ask what all the fuss was about." Given recent track records she found herself inclined to believe the worst, but maybe it would make Clark feel better.

"Someone died in that bus." Clark stated it as fact without thinking, he knew what he'd seen, even if they didn't. Noticing their appropriately quizzical faces he tried to justify the statement. "There was too much blood." It was true enough, there had been allot of blood. Pete just frowned while Chloe put on her pensive look.

"Maybe I'll poke around, see what I can…" Clark didn't even let her finish.

"No!" He didn't quite shout it, almost but not quite.

"Chill Clark, we're standing right here, not down the hall." Pete wondered what was up with Clark. He was fairly sure that going overprotective on Chloe wouldn't do anything but encourage her. Apparently Clark was either more freaked out than he appeared, or didn't realize the wasps nest he was about to stir up.

"I'm just going to talk to the hotel manager… find out what I can about the driver and the passengers…" She couldn't decide if she liked Clark's reaction cause it showed he cared, or if it annoyed her because it was about to become overbearing and pompous. A quick mental vote and she settled on the second option for the time being with the first saved as a pick me up for later.

"Chloe, let's just leave this one to the police. I don't know what happened last night but…" In truth his sudden paranoia didn't quite make sense to himself either. But it was there regardless. " Let's just leave this one alone." Chloe was wearing her committed face, not a good sign. Pete had obviously decided he wanted to stay well out of the middle and was now standing several feet back from the confrontation. Sensing defeat Clark decided to go for the lesser victory instead. "Will you at least wait until we can check it out together?"

That was a particular item Chloe decided she'd be more than happy to concede, and she let Clark know as much with a wide smile. "Meet me at the torch after school. And don't be late, if you aren't there Clark I'll…"

"Don't worry, I'll be there. Look, I've got to get to class, I'll talk to you two later ok?" The last was addressed to Pete as well, who'd obviously decided that maintaining a safe distance was no longer required.

The two watched as Clark departed towards the perils of math class, trying to put on something that resembled a cheerful face and though he didn't know it, failing miserably.

"Whatever he saw last night really freaked him out Chloe." Even though Pete knew better than to try Clark's frontal approach to persuasion he figured Clark had the right idea. Unexplained pools of blood certainly didn't make HIM want to start asking invasive questions.

"It does seem a bit much for a scream and some blood doesn't it. I mean, blood, screaming, bad, but we get worse on an almost weekly basis."

A bell rang loudly through the school, and soon thereafter the halls were empty.