Previously: Flashback, Part Five
The spider, with Beast Mistress and Snake-Boy still in it, walked up the side of the residential tower.
“Hello,” said Beast Mistress, “pardon. Hi there, hello,” as they passed other superhero families’ windows.
Each apartment held its own strange habitat. One, for example, seemed to contain all of outer space, with a lonely, flat rock floating in the middle of it. On the edge of this rock, feet hanging off, sat a sad-looking man with flame for hair. Behind him: a tiny stove, a tiny refrigerator, a tiny bed, an open book and a jar of peanut butter on the table. Over the balcony of the next apartment, one floor up, brightly-colored flowers gaped their weak, carnivorous mouths open and shut. There were a couple of standard-issue apartments, too, the kind Snake-Boy had seen on television sitcoms while hanging out alone in the Clockwork Brownstone. On one balcony, five ghostly figures with no heads and no hands stood, cheering the game below using mouths that floated above their oozing neck stumps.
“Hi ho,” said Beast Mistress. “Howdy.”
The spider continued to climb.
The Blue Spark, in his incarnation as four clumsy, buzzing points of light, led the way, occasionally bumping one of himselves into one of himselves, or the wall, or the spider, or even Snake-Boy’s face.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” said Beast Mistress. “I’m a superhero. We’re — by definition, I’m sorry to say it — nosy. You know? I wanted a chance to get to know you a little better.” She looked back and smiled. She patted his head, ruffled her fingers, as though he had hair there. “Then you can go out and play!”
A superhero kid flew too close, trying to catch a ball, or another superhero kid, or both. It was a blur for Snake-Boy.
“Watch it, Aero-Boy!” said Beast Mistress. She looked at Snake-Boy. “Fliers.” She sighed, melodramatically. “You know how they are.”
“I don’t, really,” said Snake-Boy.
“Ah yes. Of course you don’t. That’s because our friend The Great Hunter hasn’t let you out of the house much, has he?”
Snake-Boy smirked. “Not much. Not any.”
“Yes,” said Beast Mistress, as though she were getting to the bottom of something. “I was wondering about that. Why do you think it is, he keeps you locked up?”
Snake-Boy shrugged. “Because I’m dangerous.”
They arrived. The spider climbed onto one particular balcony. Beast Mistress and Snake-Boy jumped down, onto a hard-packed dirt floor. The spider shrank to normal size, skittered away.
“Make yourself comfortable,” said Beast Mistress, stepping into the apartment.
Snake-Boy stayed on the balcony.
The apartment scared him. It was as large as the world. It had a stream running through it — more like a small, muddy river, really. A gazelle and a lioness eyeballed one another from opposite banks. Beast Mistress clapped her hands again, and both of them ran away.
“Would you like a soda?” she said. “A glass of water?”
The apartment even had its own sun. Beast Mistress reached for a dial on the wall, dimmed it a notch or two.
“I’m fine,” said Snake-Boy. He leaned on the balcony railing, establishing himself here, in this territory, just outside the apartment. The four microgods that comprised The Blue Spark in his avatarless state buzzed around his head.
“Suit yourself,” said Beast Mistress. She sat on the back of a large turtle, pulled her knees up to her chin. “So –” she said. “I’m dying to get to know you. Tell me everything.” She smiled, shrugged, as if trying to imagine a topic of conversation. “Have you ever — oh, I don’t know — seen any other snake-boys in the Clockwork Brownstone?”
Snake-Boy realized that this was the true purpose of this evening’s “jaunt.” He immediately felt defensive on the Great Hunter’s behalf. He couldn’t have said why.
Beast Mistress stood, came onto the balcony with him, leaned against the railing. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know I must seem like a gossip.” She indicated the Blue Spark, currently hovering around Snake-Boy’s neck and forehead and eyes and nose. “You know my husband is, among other things, the microgod of White Lies? He knows when you’re trying to be nice about something. He knows when you’re lying to protect a friend.”
She smiled, as though lying to protect a friend were the sweetest thing anybody could ever do.
“I’ve never seen any other snake-boys in the Clockwork Brownstone,” said Snake-Boy, because this was the truth. She did not ask him if he had ever heard any other snake-boys.
Beast Mistress looked at him levelly, seeming to contemplate her tactics thus far.
“You said you were dangerous,” she said. “What do you mean?”
Snake-Boy told her about how he had woken up singing the SerpenTerrorist’s song. He told her about how his soul didn’t always want to stay inside his body, and how he felt like a different person — a different snake-boy — when this happened. He told her about Madame Blavatsky.
“She just said a lot of nonsense, though,” said Snake-Boy. “Like from a bad movie.”
Beast Mistress laughed. “That’s the way they are. Seers.” Then, as if she hadn’t been thinking about this the whole time, as if it was the most idle question ever, “– and you aren’t aware of the fact that The Great Hunter regularly slaughters the leftover snake-boys from any given SerpenTerrorist raid and drinks their blood? No indication of that at all?”
She looked at him.
The Blue Spark buzzed a bit more brightly.
Snake-Boy looked at her.
“I’m just concerned about your safety,” said Beast Mistress. “It’s an honest concern.”
“Here’s what I have seen,” said Snake-Boy. He turned and pointed down, toward the edge of the plaza. “I was standing right there — see that spot? Between the fountain and the big tree. The night I was born.”
He waited until she pretended to look.
“I remember standing right there and I saw you, and your husband,” he batted his hands gently at the Blue Spark, like swatting away a fly, “and, yes, the Great Hunter, too, and every other superhero I’ve ever met, and many that I haven’t met yet, killing snake-boys.” He laughed. “Just blam, blam, blam. Snake-boys to my left are dead. Blam blam blam, snake-boys to my right are dead. No mercy, no thoughtfulness, no caution, no picking and choosing. No nothing.”
“We didn’t kill you,” said Beast Mistress, so softly that he almost didn’t hear her.
“Your daughter saved me,” said Snake-Boy. “You got me there.”
Nobody said anything for a while.
Then Snake-Boy said, “So, yes, I’ve seen The Great Hunter kill plenty of snake-boys. And I’ve seen you do it, too. And your daughter killed her fair share. And your husband. I think I killed a few of them myself that night,” he lied, warming up to his topic. “Because that’s what we do, isn’t it?”
Beast Mistress made a skeptical but affectionate kind of face.
“We superheroes,” said Snake-Boy.
“Did The Great Hunter teach you that?” said Beast Mistress. She walked away from him, back into the apartment. Over her shoulder, “Is he training you, at least?”
“Of course he is,” Snake-Boy lied again. “I’m his sidekick, aren’t I?”
The Blue Spark lined its four selves up in a row, in front of Snake-Boy’s face, pointing into the apartment.
“You can go play now,” said the Beast Mistress, thoughtfully. “I’m sorry to have kept you to myself — it was selfish.” She looked back over her shoulder and smiled. “My husband will show you the way.”
The Blue Spark floated into the apartment, then stopped, and waited. Snake-Boy followed him into, and through, the mini-Serengeti, then out the door, into a white-and-blue hallway with umbrella stands, small square mirrors hanging above little empty tables between each apartment door, and then finally an elevator bank.
Next: Flashback, Part Seven