The next few days went by lazily. Evra and me were kept busy with our chores and with feeding the Little People. I'd tried talking to a couple of the silent blue-hooded creatures, but none of them looked at me when I spoke.
It was impossible to tell them apart. One stood out because he - or she (or it) - was taller than the others, and one was shorter, and another limped on his left leg. But the rest looked exactly alike.
Sam was helping out more and more around the camp. We didn't take him with us when we went hunting, but we let him pitch in with most of our other jobs. He was a hard worker, determined to impress us and earn himself a full-time position with the Cirque.
I didn't see much of Mr. Crepsley. He knew I had to be up early to hunt for the Little People's food, so he left me alone most of the time. I was happy that way; I didn't want him bugging me about drinking human blood.
Then Cormac Limbs arrived early one morning, which caused great excitement.
"You've got to see this guy,"Evra said, dragging me behind him. "He's the most amazing performer who ever lived."
There was already a large crowd around Cormac when we arrived at Mr. Tall's van (where he reported in to). People were slapping him on the back and asking what he'd been up to and where he'd been. He smiled at everybody, shook hands, and answered questions. He might have been a star, but he wasn't big-headed.
"Evra Von!"he shouted when he saw the snake-boy. He reached over and gave Evra a hug. "How's my favorite two-legged reptile?"
"Have you shed your skin lately?"Cormac asked.
"Not recently,"Evra said.
"Remember,"Cormac said, "I want it when you do. It's valuable. Human snakeskin is worth more than gold in some countries."
"You can have as much of it as you like,"Evra assured him. Then he pushed me forward. "Cormac, this is Darren Shan, a friend of mine. He's new at the Cirque and hasn't seen you before."
"Never seen Cormac Limbs?!"Cormac shouted, pretending to be upset. "How can this be? I thought everybody in the world had seen the magnificent Cormac Limbs in action."
"I've never even heard of you,"I told him.
He clutched his chest as though suffering a heart attack.
"What do you do?"I asked.
Cormac looked around at the crowd. "Should I give a demonstration?"
"Yeah!"they shouted eagerly.
Cormac looked at Mr. Tall, standing at the back of the crowd. Mr. Tall sighed and nodded. "You may as well,"he said. "They won't leave you alone until you do."
"All right then,"Cormac said. "Stand back and give me room."
The crowd moved back immediately. I started to move with them, but Cormac laid a hand on my shoulder and told me to stay.
"Now,"he said to the crowd, "I've been traveling for a long time and I'm too tired to go through my entire routine, so we'll keep this short and sweet."
He made his right hand into a fist, then stuck out his index finger. "Darren, will you put this finger in your mouth?"he asked.
I glanced at Evra, who signaled for me to do what Cormac asked.
"Now,"Cormac said, "bite down on it, please."
I bit softly.
I bit slightly harder.
"Come on, boy,"Cormac shouted. "Put some backbone into it. Work those jaws. Are you a shark or a mouse?"
Okay. He wanted me to bite hard? Then I would.
I opened my mouth and bit down quickly, meaning to give him a shock. Instead, I was the one who was shocked, because I bit clean through the finger and snapped it right off !
I fell back in terror and spat the dead finger from my mouth. My eyes shot up at Cormac Limbs. I expected him to scream, but he only laughed and held up his hand.
There was no blood where I'd bitten the finger off, only a white, jagged stump. As I watched, the most amazing thing happened: The finger began to grow back !
I thought I had to be imagining it, but as the seconds passed it kept growing, and pretty soon it was full-length again. Cormac held it rigidly in place a few seconds longer, then flexed it in and out to show it was as good as new.
The crowd cheered, and I felt my heart slow back down to normal.
I looked down at the ground, where I'd spat out the finger, and saw it beginning to rot. Within a minute it was nothing more than a grayish mound of mold.
"Sorry if I frightened you,"Cormac said, giving my head a pat.
"That's okay,"I told him. "I should have learned by now to expect the unexpected around here. Can I feel the new finger?"He nodded. It didn't feel different from any of the others. "How do you do it?"I asked, amazed. "It is an illusion?"
"No illusion,"he said. "It's why they call me Cormac Limbs. I've been able to grow new limbs - fingers, toes, arms, legs - ever since I was a toddler. My parents discovered my talent when I had an accident with a kitchen knife and cut off part of my nose. I can grow back virtually any part of my body. Except my head. I haven't tried cutting that off. I guess it's best not to tempt fate."
"Doesn't it hurt?"I asked.
"A little,"he said, "but not much. When one of my limbs gets cut off, a new one starts to grow almost immediately, so there's only a second or two of pain. It's a little like -"
"Come, come!"Mr. Tall bellowed, cutting him short. "We don't have time for detailed description. This show has been idle far too long. It's time we entertained the public again, before they forget about us or think we've retired.
"People,"he shouted to the crowd, and clapped his hands together. "Spread the word. The lull is over. The show goes on tonight!"