Roy Nicholls served the drinks from the dimly lit DIY bar he had erected in his basement only two weeks ago. Sat next to one of the taps, Roy’s police badge twinkled under a naked bulb, flanked by his pistol.
“How’d you get in trouble with this old sod?” Roy said to Brandon as he passed the boy a glass of orange juice.
The young kid sulked, his eyes lingering on the ominous gun lain across the counter only a few feet away and he tucked a comic book tightly under his armpit.
“Show him,” Albert Stafford told his grandson.
Brandon sighed at his grandfather and he unrolled his comic book on the table. The crinkled-up title read: SNAKE-EYE: ORIGINS, in thick cartoony words at the top of the page, each letter accented blood-red around the outside. In the centre of the page there was a picture of a reptilian man, wearing a dark visor and clad in black, trying to leap from the cover. Albert drew his index finger across the picture of Snake-Eye’s long, serpentine tongue, “They called them superheroes-” he locked eyes with his grandson, “- but they’re abominations – especially this one”.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk.” Roy shook his head, smirking. He took a seat and put two glasses on the table and poured barrel-aged whiskey for him and Albert; ice cubes clinked as they sipped the amber liquid.
“Just had the talk with my boy last month about this superhero malarkey. They’re at that age.”
“My friend, Jack, gave it to me,” Brandon huffed. “His mam buys him all the superhero comics! He even has the original Beasts ones!”
“They’re not superheroes,” Albert snapped. “They’re rotten monsters. Freaks of nature. Nothing more.”
“No!” Brandon yelled. “Snake-Eye caught a robber! Look in the comic. He got a robber and chucked him in prison! He’s good!” The kid’s nostrils flared.
Albert chuckled. How naive his grandson was. Ignorance is bliss… He sometimes wondered if it would be better that way. Having the innocence of a child, believing all the stories the adults told you. Believing the world was just and happy, sunshine and rainbows.
He took his overcoat off and sat down. “Roy here can tell you a story about Snake-Eye.”
Brandon squinted. “Really? Do you know him?”
“Met him a couple of times.” Roy leaned back, sipping his whiskey. “But I know a lot about him. I’m a policeman, after all. We keep an eye on those lot.”
The boy clenched his little fists. “Tell grandad Albert that Snake-Eye caught a robber then! And he saved someone in his school!”
“He’s definitely your blood, Albert old boy,” Roy snickered, before he picked up Brandon’s, Snake-Eye: Origins, comic book, unfolded it and skimmed through the pages.
“This says he saved a little girl?”
Brandon nodded, glaring at his comic book.
A sly grin curled on the corner of Roy’s lip, and he traced his finger to the start of the comic book. “Here he is, our young Snake-Eye before he was a green lizard man. Just a pink little kid. Thirteen? Bit older than you, Brandon. Shaved head.” Roy squinted. “Big, beady green eyes by how they’ve drawn him here. And he’s not Snake-Eye yet, right here he’s just young Nathan Lowe.”
Roy kept tracing his finger along the comic book, following the panels.
Nathan tells his mother he’s going out. He’s thinking about a girl in his class who he fancies, in fact, he’s going to meet her now. How romantic. The bright sun beats down on him as he walks through his rural village, lush green hills, dotted with sheep, rolling into the horizon. Nathan takes a deep breath before strolling down to a nice secluded little pond he knows about in the countryside.
That’s where he sees Kate, the girl always on his mind. She’s sitting by the pond, swirling the water with a stick, stoking up a muddy cloud beneath the surface.
“There you are!” Nathan yells, dashing over to her. A broad, cheesy grin beams across Kate’s face. Her brown hair is tied in a ponytail and her muddy jeans were rolled up to her knees.
“I’ve been waiting forever,” Kate teases. Little Nathan tries to go in for a hug, but Kate rushes to show him something curled up in her fist.
The boy’s cheeks go red, and his eyes drop to the ground, avoiding her gaze. “What you got?” he mutters (probably to divert her attention). Kate unveils her mud-caked fist to reveal a little dark frog. Nathan’s eyes bulge with amazement. He loves frogs, in fact, he loves all kinds of scaly, slimy creatures: lizards, snakes, frogs, turtles, and tortoises. He often dreams of having tanks upon tanks of them stacked in his room, each with its own unique exotic creature slithering around in it. Sometimes he even imagines Kate there with him, helping him run his make-believe zoo.
Kate nods, seeing Nathan’s excitement, “And there’s way more animals in the pond! Salamanders, newts, frogs, even water snails! Want to catch some? It’s called pond dipping.”
“Yes!” Nathan yells, pushing aside the reeds in the shallow water and soaking his trainers.
They both wade further into the pond, their feet sinking into the soft mud. A plethora of insects like water-skaters, water-bugs, and dragonflies surround them, but they want to catch more interesting creatures. “Where are all the frogs and newts? Let’s go deeper!”
“Slow down!” Kate tries to grab Nathan’s hand, but he is already darting ahead, unaware of how deep the water in the pond gets. “You’re going too far!” Her face grows hot when choosing between wading further in after him (despite the danger that the water might swallow them both up) or stopping and putting herself out of harm’s way.
The water is up to Nathan’s waist now. “I see a salamander!” He exclaims, raising his fists victoriously. Then his face goes white like milk. The soft mud under the water has a tight grip on his foot, and the more he tries to move it, the more it pulls him in like quicksand. Sweat beads on his head, and his eyes widen with horror as he sinks further into the murky pond. “Kate!” he cries out.
She’s biting her nails, terrified to go deeper into the pond. “Should I get help?” Kate shouts, but Nathan doesn’t answer. At the rate the pond is devouring him, she fears he’ll be dead before she finds an adult. Against her gut instinct, she heaves a deep breath, puffs her chest up, and trudges after Nathan. The water is now up to his neck.
“Hold on!” she yells, her steps becoming heavier as she has to yank her foot out of the soft, slimy mud under her feet. The water is cold as it rushes up past her belly, drenching her clothes.
“Kate—” Nathan’s voice becomes a gurgle as the pond sucks him beneath the surface of the water. He holds his breath until his lungs are about to burst. Only his hand is visible from the water, thrashing desperately, trying to cling onto anything. Kate hurries along, but it takes so much strength just to keep her balance, taking every cautious step to not fall under like Nathan, but she is too late. He disappears under the water before she gets close enough to grab him, leaving only foamy water and a few bubbles in his wake.
“Nathan!” Kate’s voice is faint from the surface. It’s murky, blurry, and dark under the pond. Nathan tries to hold his breath as long as he can, but his lungs scream for breath, and his mouth opens; water rushes down his throat. He forgets all about his frogs, lizards and newts; he even forgets about Kate for a brief moment. He only wants to live now, too afraid to think about what may come should he die.
As Nathan’s head swirls in a sea of grey fog, on the brink of losing consciousness, he feels his blood run colder. Patches of his skin became coarse, like big scabs, growing until they encompass his arms; it didn’t take long for the rough leathery flesh to crawl right under his shirt. Suddenly, holding his breath no longer hurts, and he spits the murky water out without so much as a cough. His vision comes into clear focus as though he slipped on a pair of glasses, and he yanks his foot from the soggy grip of the mud. He sees the jungle of underwater plant life through the murky water, full of small fish, insects, and amphibians. For a second, he forgets that he’s human, and wants to swim around with them and get lost in this underwater world.
Then it dawns on him that he’s not drowning anymore. He’s not scared anymore, and he doesn’t know how much time has passed. Something splashes in the water near him, and Nathan remembers Kate is in the pond, too. It could be her! She could be drowning just as he was!
Nathan would ponder his miraculous recovery later; he only wants to help Kate now. He swims through the water, cutting through it like a knife. Getting closer, he sees one of her feet being swallowed up by the mud. She must have tripped over trying to pull herself free, and now she was fighting for her life.
Bubbles froth from her mouth, flying up to break the surface. Nathan grabs her shirt and pulls her up so that her foot is free from the tight grip of the muck beneath. He accidentally tears her shirt, only now realizing the sharp nails on the ends of his fingers. They are more like claws than nails now, and his hands are green and scaly like that of a lizard.
He drags her up to the surface, but Kate has passed out by then, muck and leaves cling to her face, water dripping from her drenched hair. “Don’t worry, Kate, I got you!” Nathan says, but his words fall on deaf ears. He pulls her out of the pond, laying her down by some reeds and long grass, then fear creeps into his heart again: she is dying, maybe already dead. He’s about to lose his friend, best friend, even. The love of his life. Nathan looks around frantically, hoping an adult will pass by, but he sees no one. Only birds flying in the distance.
Drawing back to his vague memories of performing CPR on a dummy in school, Nathan presses both of his hands against her chest, pumping up and down. “Wake up, Kate!” He keeps pressing. “Please, just please wake up!” He begs, tears welling in his eyes.
Kate coughs up a gulp of water. Nathan gasps with relief and keeps pressing. Eventually, Kate’s eyes open and she turns around, spitting out all remaining pond water, before wiping her mouth. When she sees Nathan, she nearly jumps out of her skin. “W-Who are you?” She rubs her eyes, not believing the green figure in front of her is real. “Wait… Nathan?”
He looks at his own hands. The coarse green scales covering them, crawling up his arm and under his shirt. He sees his reflection in the settling pond water. A rippling green face. A face he does not recognize. All of his hair has fallen out, even his eyebrows and eyelashes. His once green eyes are now orbs of amber, with a thin, dark slit cutting right down the middle of them. Serpent’s eyes.
Nathan brushes his hands over his head, surprised at how coarse it feels. “W-What happened to me?”
Kate’s look of fear was now one of amazement. “Oh my God! Nathan! You’re like a superhero. No… you are a superhero!”
“A-Are you sure?” Nathan can’t take his eyes off his hands, nor can he stop feeling his arms and legs, unable to get used to his new skin. He doesn’t think he’s a superhero, if anything, he feels more like a monster. He looks like a monster.
“Yes!” Kate said. “Sometimes, heroes have their abilities bloom naturally when they’re a bit older. But other times, if they get really angry or upset, or they almost die, the abilities will force themselves through. That’s what happened to you right there!”
“Wow…” Nathan said as he gazed at his reflection. Now crystal clear in the settled water.
“Hey!” A loud, deep voice from behind them boomed. Over the hill, three thuggish boys, all taller than Nathan, broader at the shoulders, shaved heads, mohawks, and piercings, bounded toward them. “That freak’s trying to kill the girl!”
“Is it a crocodile?” one of the thugs asks, displaying a big goofy overbite.
“Course it’s not a crocodile, it’s an alligator!” The other one quips, smirking to himself.
The biggest thug, the one in the middle, with a black leather jacket rimmed with spikes, slaps both of them. “He’s just a little freak.” He thrusts his fist into his open palm with an evil grin. “And I’m gonna smash his face in.”
Nathan edges backward, his feet touching the surface of the water, shaking in his shoes.
“Leave him alone!” Kate shrills, standing between Nathan and the thugs. “He isn’t attacking me, he saved me! I was about to drown in the pond, and he pulled me out.”
“Shut it, stupid girl,” the thug snaps. “After we’re through with the freak, you can come on a walk with us and give us kisses for saving your life!”
At that, Nathan clenches his fists. He fears for his own life, but he would never let any of them harm Kate, and the thought of the three of them trying to kiss her makes his stomach churn. It makes him want to hurt them. “YOU LEAVE HER ALONE!” he hisses, unveiling a new set of sharp teeth and a forked tongue.
The big thug takes out a set of knuckle dusters from his pocket. “Are you gonna make me?” His nose ring twinkles in the light.
Nathan says nothing. He just glares at the three of them, huffing and puffing. Inwardly he’s praying they will go away, he doesn’t know if he has the courage to fight, but when he sees Kate behind him and thinks about what the thugs want to do to her, that gives him strength.
The goofy thug with the mohawk swings at him first. Nathan dodges the blow, his senses unusually alert. Nathan cracks him on the face—
—the thug reels, clutching at his bleeding nose, crying out as he runs away.
Nathan catches the smaller of the two remaining thugs in his peripheral vision and ducks another punch. Then he trips the thug up, shoving him into the cold pond water—
—where a frog jumps on his face.
Before he can relish his surprisingly good fighting skills, a fist adorned with a brass knuckle duster smashes the side of Nathan’s head and he falls to the ground.
Kate screams, running up to Nathan, who is nursing his numb cheek. He gets up past her, telling her not to worry.
The thug, the big thug, is grinning, unphased that his friends fell so meekly to Nathan’s powers. He approaches, ready to throw more shots Nathan’s way. Nathan knows he can’t let him get too close. The smack he just took almost knocked the daylights out of him, and if he blacked out, then this big brute would take Kate away to do as he pleases!
The brute darts forward and Nathan reacts instinctively. It was as though his new, serpentine tongue acted on its own accord, and shot out of his mouth violently—
—and struck the thug across the centre of his face!
“Argh!” the brute cries, rubbing his bloodshot eyes. “Did you just hit me with your… your tongue?” He is curled up on the ground like a baby, his face taking on a greenish texture, seemingly more disgusted than hurt by what had happened.
Nathan towers over him, shrouding the thug with his shadow. “I’ll hit you with it again if you don’t go away.”
“What—Who are you?” the thug says.
Nathan grins, knowing he’s won now, and his name, his new name, comes naturally. “Snake-Eye. Now scram or I’ll get the police!” He sticks his long tongue out so that it curls around like a ribbon while he raises his claws out like a swamp monster. The thug runs away crying for his mother.
“Wow, that was so cool!” Kate yells and hugs him, warming his now cold-blooded body. “Thank you for that. By the way… you’ve saved me twice now.” She giggles.
“It’s what a superhero would do, right?” Snake-Eye says. “Bullies are just cowards. They fold like paper when you stand up to them!”
“You sure showed them!” Kate says and gives Snake-Eye a peck on the cheek. He smiles, feeling the warmth of young love. They walk off together into the sunset.
Snake-Eye’s parents are so proud when Kate tells them what had happened, and the senior officer at the police station commends him for his efforts, showing him off as an example to their village. And of course, Snake-Eye goes on to have a prestigious, noble career…
“The end.” Roy Nicholls closed the final page of the comic book and crumpled it up in his fist.
Brandon Stafford frowned, confused. “That was your story? You just read the comic book. I already know all of that. I told you he saved the girl!”
“It’s the end of the comic book. Not the story…” Albert put a hand on his grandson’s shoulder. He felt bad for what they were about to do to the boy; some might say Brandon was too young to hear what they were going to tell him. At times, even Albert thought children shouldn’t hear such things.
But he won’t be a little kid forever, Albert thought. What did it matter when people learned the world was a fucked-up, dark place? The sooner the better. Might as well save him the disappointment.
“What’s the end of the story?” Brandon asked.
“The story is still ongoing, technically…” Roy said, walking to the bar and refilling his glass with whiskey. “But what if I told you the story in your comic book was a lie, a fabrication from the State News Corporation?”
“What if I told you that the SNC owns the three largest comic book publishers in the UK? What if I told you that the girl’s name wasn’t Kate? She was called Lily Amble.” Roy sipped his whiskey and leant over the bar. Two thick shadows covered his eyes, making his eye sockets look black and empty. “What if I told you that young Snake-Eye didn’t meet Lily at the pond to go pond-dipping, but because he had alcohol and cigarettes, stole a few naughty pills from his older brother, and convinced Lily Amble to come and try some with him?” Brandon’s jaw dropped.
“The part about him drowning was true enough,” Roy continued, “though I don’t know why he jumped in the water in the first place. Probably just drunk or high or might have been trying to impress the girl. Some even speculated that Lily pushed him in… But he did develop his abilities to save himself from the water, and when he came out, Lily was horrified. Thought he was a monster, hell, he probably thought he was a monster. I think anyone would be disgusted if they looked like a grotesque lizard creature. Anyway, Lily panicked and tried to run away. Some witnesses recalled hearing shrieks of terror echoing across the fields that day.” Brandon stared at his grandfather.
“What happened next?”
Albert took over the story, “So, Snake-Eye chased her. The investigator thought Snake-Eye may not have wanted her to tell everyone it was him (Nathan Lowe) specifically, not like he could hide it forever, but he was just a dumb teenager.
“The chase didn’t last long. He caught her thanks to his new agility, and a fight broke out… Roy, do you remember the finer details?”
“Ha, well long story short,” said Roy, “The police found Lily Amble’s corpse the next day in a patch of dark red grass. Half of her face was eaten off, her insides spilled out of a gaping hole in her stomach, broken ribs poking out of her skin like skeletal fingers, a leg and a hand was severed off, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of small teeth marks were visible all over the few parts of her body that remained intact.” Roy downed the rest of his whiskey.
The colour had left Brandon’s face as if all the blissful youth had been drained out of him, and his mouth gaped open.
“Believe it or not,” Roy continued, scratching his neck, “they even fabricated the part about Snake-Eye receiving a hero’s welcome when he got home. Snake-Eye’s mother screamed when she saw the green lizard boy, who was presumably covered in Lily Amble’s blood, walk through the door and his dad came down the stairs with a shotgun when he heard the commotion. We assumed he shot first out of fright, but Snake-Eye killed him as well. Leaving him in a similar state that he left his former childhood friend, Lily. Weirdly enough, he didn’t kill his mother despite what she witnessed, but he might as well have considering the state she was left in after the murder. She ended up being sent to a psychiatric ward where she remains to this day. Snake-Eye was enrolled into a youth program for young superheroes without care, where they dressed him in a costume and paraded him as a paragon of virtue.”
“A good person.” Albert clarified that last comment for his grandson.
“The end…” Roy added again.
Brandon was still lost for words. He looked at his comic with a sort of disgust, and yet Albert still wasn’t entirely sure whether or not the boy believed them. “But…” Brandon finally managed. The word was almost a whisper. “But why?”
“For this.” Albert tapped the comic book.
Again, Brandon frowned with confusion. He couldn’t possibly hope to get the whole picture.
“Because… superheroes, son,” Albert said. “Superheroes make their masters a lot of money through comic book sales like these. They make the government look good for their elections. They hurt people the government doesn’t like. And if everyone knew about these stories, then no one would like superheroes, would they?”
“Why don’t you tell people, Roy?” Brandon asked, sitting up straight now.
Roy chuckled. “Clever little bugger, isn’t he? Well, if I told people like journalists or raved about it in the pub, then the government wouldn’t like me very much. And what did grandad Albert say the superheroes do to people the government doesn’t like?”
The little boy gulped, swallowing his words. He understood perfectly. “S-So the superheroes are the bad guys?”
“You have no idea, son.” Albert took the comic book and threw it into a small bin.
by M.T. JohnsonRecommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in