This is the sequel to Johnny and the Antichrist. Johnny is about 18 in this story, which should be correct if you consider the relative timelines of the Johnny books and Smallville, but I'm not absolutely certain because I don't know where my copy of Johnny and the Bomb has gone. Damn it all.
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Thirty-One Flavours of Ice-Cream
* * *
"'Meteor Capital of the World,'" said Wobbler. "So they produce meteors here? Like . . . boots or something?"
"And they call us aliens," said Bigmac.
"There was a meteor shower in 1989," said Yo-less. The top of his head could just barely be seen above the brochure he was reading. Johnny hadn't thought there'd be any brochures in Smallville -- it didn't seem that sort of place -- but Yo-less could probably find a brochure if they landed him in the middle of the Yukon. He didn't think you'd really visited a place until you knew 101 interesting facts about it and could reel off the addresses of all the local attractions.
"And they're still talking about it?" said Wobbler. "No wonder it's called Smallville."
"Why are we here?" said Johnny.
Kirsty had been about to direct her blowtorch glare at Wobbler, but at now she turned it on Johnny instead. Johnny winced.
"We're doing research?" she said. "On meteor rocks? And related phenomena? We won a grant for it? Maybe you remember?"
Around her seventeenth year, Kirsty had picked up an unpleasant habit of speaking in questions when she was annoyed. She still hadn't grown out of it. It had got so that Johnny now cowered automatically even when she asked perfectly innocuous questions like "Could you pass the tea?" or "What time is it?"
"Yes, but . . ." What Johnny really wanted to say was, but. Yes, Yo-less collects A's like brass band CDs, and you took your A Levels when you were fourteen, but I've never even scored a B in gym, and Bigmac only goes to school on alternate Wednesdays, and Wobbler has never got anything higher than a C in English. The last time he got a C in English, his mum cried. She's got his report card from that year in a frame in their living room. And I still don't understand long division.
What Johnny wanted to say was, we're not researcher material. And the oldest of us is only nineteen. And no, I don't remember applying for a grant, now that you ask. It doesn't make any sense.
But he only said,
"Blackbury's got phenomena."
"Yes, well, we could've done research on Blackbury," said Yo-less, not looking up from his brochure. "But then we'd've had to wrap our report up with, 'In conclusion, all the evidence points to the fact that Johnny Maxwell is mental.'"
"And we already know that part," said Wobbler happily.
"But--" said Johnny, and a very familiar voice said in his head, Thirty-one flavours of ice-cream.
Johnny supposed that made sense.
"God, I don't know why I let you all come along," said Kirsty. "It'll be like doing research with the Three Stooges, plus an escapee from the lunatic asylum."
"Oh, thanks," said Wobbler.
"That's politically incorrect, that is," Yo-less said, his face still lost under the brochure. "Johnny's just sanitily challenged."
"What, like he doesn't bathe much?"
"No, like he's mad."
"Lunatically advantaged," Wobbler corrected.
They looked at Johnny. He stared at the whipped cream on his untouched coffee.
"Is there an ice-cream place anywhere near, d'you think?" he said.
"There's probably an ice-cream parlour left over from the fifties," said Kirsty. "With a shining counter and waitresses in pink dresses. I can't believe this place. It isn't natural." She glared at a harmless pink-clad waitress, who scurried away like someone had bit her -- the usual reaction to a glare from Kirsty.
"I dunno," said Johnny. "I sort of like it."
Kirsty didn't seem to think this was any recommendation for the town.
"There's something beneath all this -- mum's apple pie and sunshine and, and corn," said Kirsty grimly. "And I'm going to find out what it is."
"Oh," said Johnny, since she seemed to expect an answer, and Yo-less and Wobbler didn't look like they were going to volunteer.
Kirsty had good instincts, thought Johnny. She was right; there was something beneath the small town ordinary-ness of Smallville. He felt it himself, a prickle just under his skin -- something he had to find out, something he had to do.
He didn't think they were thinking of the same something, though.
"Oh, come on," said Wobbler. "They've already got meteor rocks. That's weird enough. If they had anything else, it wouldn't be weird anymore. It'd be like having werewolves and killer zombies in the same haunted castle. The weirdness'd cancel each other out. It'd just be normal. Right, Bigmac?
"Right, Bigmac?" said Wobbler.
They looked around, the top of Yo-less's head revolving above the brochure. There was a distinct lack of gangly skinheads in camouflage jackets and the last miserable stages of acne on the scene.
"Uh oh," said Kirsty.
"He's over there," said Johnny. "Oi, Bigmac!"
Bigmac was at the door. He gave Johnny a nervous grin when he waved. Johnny's heart sank as he trundled over.
Johnny's friends weren't what he'd call special or anything, but they did have talents of their own. Yo-less was good at school, and following rules, and talking to adults, and not being at all cool if he could possibly avoid it (which he very often did). Wobbler invented computer viruses as a hobby, and he'd watched more scary movies than anybody dead or alive or both, he assured Johnny. Kirsty could do, well, everything.
Johnny could think.
Bigmac's talents were: breeding tropical fish, knowing a lot about guns in a theoretical way, steadily failing Maths. despite being a mathematical genius, and getting into trouble. Especially with cars. Yo-less said that if you locked Bigmac in a room with six bulldogs to guard the door and a seventeen-story drop to the ground from the window, put a car -- the more expensive the better -- bristling with a million alarm systems in a titanium-lined cell with no openings at the bottom of a lake at the other side of the town, and waited ten minutes, you'd see Bigmac being escorted to the station by stern-faced policemen, babbling something about it being a stupid car anyway, and he didn't do it 'cos he wasn't there and anyway it wasn't his fault, nobody looked after their cars properly nowadays.
"Hey," said Bigmac.
"Hey," said Johnny.
"I saw a skinhead outside," said Bigmac desultorily.
"It's 2001," said Wobbler. "All the skinheads are dead."
"Not this bloke," said Bigmac. "He had the skinnest head I've ever seen, I'm just saying.
"Huh," he added. "I thought Lamborghinis were supposed to be good cars."
Johnny, Wobbler and Kirsty shared a look of horror. Yo-less's head slowly rose out of the brochure.
"You stole a Lamborghini?" said Kirsty.
"I didn't steal it--"
"D'you know how much those things cost?" said Wobbler.
"It wasn't stealing, I was just trying it out--"
"You'll be paying off the repair bills till you're eighty!"
Bigmac looked relieved.
"Oh, that's all right then. I don't reckon there was enough left to repair."
They stared at him.
"You'll be paying off the lawsuit when you're dead," said Wobbler.
"Bigmac," said Yo-less. "This skinhead. Did he happen to be the owner of this car?"
"Not really," he said. "Yeah. I guess. He was sort of walking away from it when I saw him, but maybe it was a rental--"
Yo-less pushed the brochure over to Bigmac.
"Did he look anything like this?" he said.
Bigmac looked at it.
"Yeah, that's him," he said. "Told you. Skinnest head I've ever seen."
Johnny peeked over his shoulder. It was a picture of a factory or something, with a man in the foreground. Bigmac was right; he did have a very bare head.
"Are you telling me," breathed Kirsty, "that you just wrecked Lex Luthor's car?"