Previously: Snake-Boy Comes Out, Part One
Snake-Boy wanted to cry.
His frightened shoulder-snakes snapped and lunged at the sound of the applause. Then the applause died away. His shoulder-snakes continued to snap and lunge and hiss.
Snake-Boy, as he had been told to do, waved.
Unlike his shoulder-snakes, he was not afraid. He was mortified. He hated his outfit. He didn’t understand the point of the party. The Great Hunter had told him it was a coming out party, an introduction to the crimebusting community, a debut. But he had already been going to classes at Crimebuster High for several months now. He had been tagging along with The Great Hunter on street patrol, too, often teaming up with other heroes. Between this and that, and just hanging around in the limited social circles to which he had access, he had pretty much already met all of the people at the party. There was the Blue Spark, wearing a handsome but acne-pitted blond guy’s body. There was Grandson of Sam. There was Nanoman, androgynously robotic, looking around distractedly for his date. There was nobody new here. He was new to nobody. What was the purpose of an introduction?
Snake-Boy, as he had been told to do, smiled and waved, up there on his circular pedestal.
“Hey,” said his friend Lady Dogface from the foot of the makeshift stage.
Snake-Boy wanted to cry because he was angry. He wanted to cry because he was confused. He was confused because he was stupid. The Great Hunter always told him he was stupid, whenever he got confused. Being stupid made him want to cry.
He did not cry.
“Hey Chuck,” said Lady Dogface, “c’mon!”
She always called him “Chuck.”
“You can stop that now,” she said. “Nobody’s paying you any attention.”
She was right. The guests had turned to one another, jabbering and tinkling ice in their plastic glasses. Even The Great Hunter had moved over to the vast wall of tiny-paned frosted warehouse windows on the other side of the room. He stood there now, hands clasped behind his back, feet spread as if he expected hell and tarnation to come crashing through at any second, and he needed to be there in front to say “hello” and slow its progress.
Snake-Boy stepped down from his pedestal, then down from the stage. Pedestal and stage melted — if anything as slow, jerky and mechanically loud as this process can rightly be called melting — back down into the floor. Even his shoulder-snakes hid their heads in an aw-shucks attitude behind his back.
“Why do you call me Chuck?” he said.
“C’mon, Chuck,” she said, emphasizing the “Chuck,” to show that she had heard the question, thought it was funny, and was going to ignore it. “Show me around your place.”
It would have never occurred to Snake-Boy to think of the Clockwork Brownstone as “his” place — it belonged, as did he himself, to The Great Hunter. It would not have occurred to Snake-Boy that he had a place, until Lady Dogface had told him so. She had that power. She reinvented the world around her, just by saying things about it that hadn’t been true until she said them, or, at least, that began to seem true after she said them, which may or may not have been the same thing.
“Okay,” he said, catching his breath. “So this is the great room.”
She tugged him gently, by the head of one of his shoulder-snakes (which somehow didn’t seem to mind the attention) deeper into the room, into the crowd. “Hello Aeroboy,” she said, brushing past Aeroboy. “Hello 10,000 Little Sisters,” she said, stepping through 10,000 Little Sisters.
As anybody would expect in the great room of a Great Hunter, a variety of heads, both animal and alien, had been mounted upon the walls. She stopped him directly underneath one of them.
“Have you seen this?” she said. She did not have any expression on her dog’s face as she looked at him. This must have been a very difficult trick — he thought. Dog’s faces were usually very expressive. The lack of expression itself amounted to a challenge.
“Well, yeah,” he said. “So?”
It was a mounted snake-boy, severed at the torso, its face and shoulder-snakes posed in a flamboyantly vicious manner, reaching out much farther into the air in the middle of the room than any of the other extremities of any of the other hunting prizes. It had obviously been there for a while: the skin of the thing was five shades darker than Snake-Boy’s own, dusty and hardened, and cracking, like a set of worn-out, been-around-the-world alligator boots.
“It didn’t have a soul, so it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m the only Snake-Boy with a soul.”
“You don’t sound like you believe that,” said Lady Dogface. “You don’t believe that.”
And this was another one of those things. Once she had said it, he realized that she was right.
“You!” screamed the Great Hunter, pointing at a blurry figure hovering outside of the frosted glass windows, accusingly. Everybody turned to look.
“What’s going on?” said Snake-Boy.
“I don’t know,” said Lady Dogface. “Looks like Sky Lord. Whatever.”
But Snake-Boy had learned to alway pay attention to The Great Hunter. He depended upon the man for everything. He couldn’t avoid worrying about what he was up to, especially after that melodramatic screaming-and-pointing business.
“Wait,” said Snake-Boy.
The Great Hunter stuck his hand in the air like a student with the answer to a difficult question, or a conductor about to time the release of a last, held, ominous symphonic note. The Clockwork Brownstone lowered a little handhold at the end of a steel rope on a pulley. The Great Hunter grabbed it, and was taken up, through a hole that appeared in the ceiling, then irised clunkily shut behind him.
“Let’s go up to the roof,” said Snake-Boy, trying to make his suggestion sound casually motivated. “Let’s go see what’s going on with that.”
He had recognized the figure through the frosted glass. It had not been Sky Lord.
Next: The Return of the Father