The Great Hunter had kept Snake-Boy chained and caged in the Clockwork Brownstone’s minidungeon-slash-wine-cellar for several weeks. Snake-Boy did not blame him.
“You did, after all, wake up singing that horrible SerpenTerrorist song,” said The Great Hunter, blowing on the surface of his coffee while pacing in front of Snake-Boy’s cage. “Out of key, I may add. You could be a sleeper agent even now.”
“I might be,” Snake-Boy agreed, with resignation. “I get so confused. There are several of me.”
“Tell me about this,” said The Great Hunter, sitting in the canvas director’s chair beside Snake-Boy’s cage. He crossed his plump legs. “That sounds interesting and useful.” He fluffed his mustache with the lip of his coffee cup, something Snake-Boy had noticed him doing often, when he was thinking hard. The Great Hunter drank a lot of coffee around Snake-Boy. He did a lot of hard thinking. His coffee cup was very large, and so was his mustache.
“Well,” said Snake-Boy, “there’s me. The me that talks to you. The me that thinks and does stuff.”
Snake-Boy looked over for a sign to continue. The Great Hunter said nothing. He narrowed his eyes.
“You understand?” said Snake-Boy. “You see the difference?”
“The difference between what?” huffed The Great Hunter. “You have only told me about one you.”
“Well the point,” said Snake-Boy. “The me that is me — that one is different from the others. They’re here, but they can’t do anything. There are my shouldersnakes. Each one of them thinks it is somebody sometimes. They think they have their own minds. They don’t, but they think they do. Is this making sense?”
“Assuredly it is not,” said The Great Hunter. “But continue.”
“Sometimes they talk to me, my shoulder-snakes, but I do not listen.”
His shoulder-snakes gave no indication of consciousness. They lay fallow at his sides, eyes and mouths shut tight, as though they were dead.
“What do they say?” said The Great Hunter.
“I don’t know. I told you that I don’t listen.”
The Great Hunter stood up with enough force to knock his flimsy canvas chair to the ground, which wasn’t much force at all, but just precisely enough. “Is this some sort of vaudeville routine, sir? Speak plainly.”
“I’m very careful in refusing to listen to them,” said Snake-Boy. “I am afraid of what they might be telling me. I block it out pretty hard. I’m being totally serious.”
The Great Hunter resumed his pacing.
“Okay then, fine. And is that all? Are there any other yous I need to be made aware of?”
“Well there is also my soul,” said Snake-Boy.
The house ticked a while, working its clockwork rounds.
“I saw it that time,” said Snake-Boy, “when I woke up on the rooftop. I don’t know where it had been. It stood there, hovering, watching me. Looking worried. That’s when I wanted to sing the SerpenTerrorist song. Because it wasn’t in me.”
The Great Hunter cocked an eyebrow. “It wasn’t in you.”
“I didn’t have my soul inside me. I was like any other snake-boy without my soul. Then you beat me,” said Snake-Boy. He winced, remembering. “– and it jumped back into my body. It’s been inside me ever since. But I don’t know what it was doing, where it went, or why. It won’t tell me.”
“It talks to you?”
“No, that’s the problem. It refuses.” Snake-Boy shrugged. “So you could be right. Maybe I am a sleeper agent.”
“This is all very easy to solve,” said The Great Hunter. He righted his chair. He took a sip of his coffee. He sat. He placed his mug on top of Snake-Boy’s cage, waved his hands in the air, abracadabra, until a smartphone appeared in them.
“Ding-ding. Calling Madame Blavatsky,” said the smart-phone.
“My dear,” said The Great Hunter. “I have an interesting case for you. Oh. What? Yes, I know. It’s been a long time. Hello?”
He looked at Snake-Boy.
“She hung up on me.”
Snake-Boy shrugged. A lot of The Great Hunter’s friends, he had noticed, didn’t seem to like The Great Hunter very much. Snake-Boy had mostly noticed this because The Great Hunter had told him so. The Great Hunter was fairly chatty, for a captor-slash-mentor. He must have been lonely, Snake-Boy figured.
“Maybe it was just a bad connection,” said the smartphone, who really was quite intelligent, and also a bit of a wise-ass. “We are in the mini-dungeon, after all.”
“I’ll be back in a bit,” said The Great Hunter, over his shoulder to Snake-Boy, tugging down the trap door in the ceiling.
In the brief half-second that the trap door was open, Snake-Boy heard the hisses and snores and complaints of the hundreds of other snake-boys — the doomed objects of the so-called superhero’s bloodlust — locked in the maxi-dungeon next door. His soul ached for them. His soul knew what was what. His soul knew what happened at night over there. His soul knew better than to say anything.
Next: Flashback, Part Two