Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

Categories Navigation Menu

Chapter 3: The House that is Silent

Posted by on Dec 13, 2013 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

The Lady of Winter

. . . Hans, it was, who dreamt of such an ending. Hans, who stomped the flat world round. Hans who climbed the sacred mountain; who spoke forbidden words upon it; who brought dread winter down upon the world. . . .
(illustration by Anthony Damiani)

– 1 –

Posted by on Dec 14, 2013 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

The nithrid rages across England. It flares up and it flashes down. It howls across the sky, devouring other storms. For a while, the world ignores it; but —

It has begun to kill.

Just here and there. Just a trickle. But it has begun to play in this brand new world that Edmund has given to it. It has experimented with flashing down into a city, lighting up the buildings, making them dance St. Vitus’ Dance, and chasing and slaughtering the men and women on the streets. It swirls up and down and all about in great gusts of lightning and —

It passes through the School. It’s a mix of nostalgia and vague stress; being a living storm, it has no way to turn in its last few homework assignments, or attend to its midterms, and somehow it has gotten the impression —

I really can’t imagine from where —

That its secondary school grades and record will be of some sort of account.

It doesn’t understand what a nithrid should understand, to live in a world like hers, which is: the world belongs to anybody who can power entire cities, live a long time without consuming financially costly resources, and write programs for the marvelous electronic computers so prolific in that futuristic age.

There’s really no need for her to have high marks!

Yet there it is, sweeping back through the School now. I just don’t know what it’s thinking.

Emily lugs a PlayStation 6 up onto the roof.

The nithrid ignores her. It doesn’t recognize its danger. It thinks, at most, that she’s out there to see it; that she’s appreciating the lightning; it doesn’t mind, and it doesn’t kill.

Emily goes back down. She lugs back up an uninterruptible power supply.

She plugs the PlayStation in.

A light burns gold.

The sky groans.

The nithrid writhes, and the lightning stops. The rain becomes a perfectly, precisely steady flow.

After a while a single arc of lightning comes down. It is struggling, as if pushing through molasses. It progresses slowly. It touches down on the roof facing Emily. It skitters there, still and steady, holding itself against the ground.

It is like it is staring at her.


“This is how it is,” says Emily. “This is the Konami Thunder Dance. The sun won’t move. The rain won’t start or stop. And there’s not going to be any more of that lightning, nithrid. Not until I start the dance.”

The nithrid eddies.

Emily brushes back her hair.

“I hear tell,” she says, “that a living storm’s been making havoc over the British Isles; and growing too. That that savage beauty, called a nithrid, has come back to make an end to cities and to civilizations and to all the works of humanity.”

The lightning traces across the roof. It makes a symbol. She looks at it.

“I don’t . . . read . . . Sumerian?” she says.

It scribbles the symbol out. It tries again in letters writ much larger: YES.

“I see,” she says.

There is a bit of silence.

“The world Konami Thunder Dance association tells me that I’ve got first crack at this,” she says. “Since I’m here, and I’m the best. If I fail, though, there’s others to come after me. Max. Meredith. Even Lucy. And plenty others after those. So, I’m going to dance against you, and I’m going to win, and you’re going to quit it. Not because you agree to. Not because you’ll choose to. Because this is the revolutionary PlayStation 6 dance pad game that is going to tear you apart.”

Lightning is writing on the roof.

It is writing largely, looping: TRY ME.

She presses the power button with her toe.

There’s no turning back now.

Only, there is.

She is with it and within it. She is wound through it and it through her; she is dancing amidst the lightning, and she is binding it up again; it is as if her spirit has flown up from her body in the shape of a bird, as if it weaves in and out among the branches of the storm, among its stations, and where she goes it follows her, and she is threading it into knots. Each step she traps it tighter, she twists it about itself, and whether it strikes at her or dances with her, it only pulls itself more stringently into the shape of the tightening knot.

In this dance, she will be victorious, but —

There is, in fact, a turning back.

She kicks off the game.

There is a sudden silence. The lightning tears itself out of the knots she’s woven into it. The storm howls. It flares. It strikes before her, white, incandescent, searing the air in front of her face and damaging one corner of the coating on her KTD pad.

It draws back. The nithrid scribbles over its previous messages.


She just turns, though. She walks away from it.


It stops writing. She isn’t looking. She’s walking down the fire escape.

She says, “Then start with me.”

It does.

There is lightning all through her. She stumbles. But it does not kill her. After a while she is conscious; she glares down at a fresh new scar.

She staggers away, limping.

The storm departs.

“God damn it, Emily,” says Max, later.

She looks at him.

“You taught it to stay away from the Thunder Dance. Why didn’t you finish the bloody thing?”

“I decided that I shouldn’t,” Emily explains.

– 2 –

Posted by on Dec 21, 2013 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

Saul performs. He rocks. He peels his music from the heart of him before the screaming crowd, and sweat rolls off of him in streams.

It’s helpful, really.

It helps his glass harmonica play.

There’s friends on the guitar and drums behind him. There’s rebellious globed lightning that reacts to the music, too; for what’s rock for, if not to laugh in the face of the Devil, the nithrid, and all their ilk?

But mostly there’s just him, and his seven-foot glass harmonica, and his body, drenched with sweat.

He’s forgotten he was a svart-elf. That’s his reincarnation!

Now all he can think about is his rock and roll.

It’s not as simple as that, of course. It’s not as simple as “wake up human one morning, and also a baby, and eventually go into performing arts.” There’s lots of stuff in between!

It’s just that —

All his life, Saul’s been told he was bad, and he knew it was wrong, on some level he knew it was wrong, but he’d honestly forgotten that he was good. He’d forgotten about the sugar fairies. He’d forgotten about the Land of Pleasure and Happiness and the fact that he could have gone there. He’d forgotten about everything, really, right down to the puppy that had called him back.

So after a while, he just started accepting he was wayward.

He bent himself and hammered himself into the mold of somebody wrong. Drugs — though, and he’d never admit this to anybody, he mostly takes placebos. Loose sex, principally alone. He kisses budgies, lavishly, and without precautions. And of course there is his . . . Lethal . . . rock and roll.

His music is the kind that can sink its teeth into the human heart. There’s no one at school save Edmund who can really ignore it. Saul was good when he was born, he was a melodious baby, and he’s better now that he’s grown; and a little bit of the smith-wroth’s still in him, so he’s best of all with the tools he’s made himself.

It takes a svart-elf to make a band out of guitar, drums, globes, and glass harmonica, but Saul, he makes it work.

His concert ends with a crash. He smashes a carefully prepped and separable section of his harmonica. It shatters on the stage and releases scent.

He takes a towel. He wanders backstage. He mops himself off.

He catches a bottle of brandy someone throws at him. He mimes drinking it down. Later he drops it in the liquor recycling bin (the school has separate recycling bins for glass, paper, plastic, and unused liquor) and collapses into his chair in the rooms backstage.

Tom shakes his hand enthusiastically.

“Rock,” says Tom. “You, sir, are a genius. Your music lives.

“Huh?” Saul says.

He isn’t sure how Tom got backstage and into his room there. The answer, incidentally, is “Tom controls swarms of robot bees.”

“Oh,” says Tom. He smiles. “I came to honor you.”

He takes off his hat. He proffers it.

“It’s not underwear,” says Saul, pleased.

Hardly anyone gives rock stars their overwear. It’s a new experience.

“Yes!” agrees Saul, more with himself than with the narration, and he puts it on.

“Lo,” he says, standing up, striding, preparing to declaim something, “I am crowned Saul the —”

His voice shorts out. He staggers. He goes down on one knee.

“Oh, come on,” he says. He shakes his head vigorously. “No!”

He falls over. He kicks his feet.

“No. I won’t let a hat, I won’t, it won’t, a hat won’t beat me —”

Power rages through the channels of his brain. His eyes roll back. He screams.

They come back down gleaming red.

“Oh,” he says.

He makes a strange face at Tom. He takes off the hat. He hands it back to Tom. He improvises a red hat out of bits of torn uniforms and roses that are laying around the room.

He is crying.

“What?” says Tom. “What?”

“What have you done to me?” says Saul, like he wasn’t prepared for this, like at no point in all his life of rock and roll, drugs, and fevered debauchery has anyone ever warned him that he might actually be some kind of saint.

“What?” says Tom. “What?”

Saul points at him accusingly. “You’ll never get gout!” he tells Tom, which is true, but isn’t at all what he expected he would say.

“Thanks,” says Tom.

Then his face falls, slowly.

“Dang it,” he says. “I’d really thought you’d wind up in Dreams.”

“I can’t play music,” says Saul. “My drug habit. No more pirating torrents. What am I going to do with myself, Tom?”

“You’ll find something!” says Tom. “I’ve got faith in you!”

He claps Saul on the shoulder.

Then he grimaces, like he wants to join the saint in crying.

He turns.

He lowers his shoulders. His back is as expressionless as a . . . back. . . is as he trudges, quietly, away.

– 3 –

Posted by on Dec 22, 2013 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

As for Bethany, she finds a hat.

It does not suffice.

Nothing suffices. She tries more and more elaborate hats, and simpler ones too; and different shades of red.

Finally, bleak, her face a pale ghost’s beneath her florid red bonnet, she stands upon the edge of a rooftop and she sways.

“I cannot make myself give up,” she says.

They have come, of course: the others in her House. Peter sits on the edge of the roof beside her. Saul, he sprawls.

“That would be unsaintly,” says Saul. “If nothing else.”

“It’s just,” says Bethany, “that for a moment, I thought, because I’d worked hard; because I did my best, and strove for right things, that I’d have a miracle come down to me, that I’d reach the happy ending. And then Edmund ate it.”

“That bastard,” says Saul. “How dare he eat somebody else’s happy ending?”

Bethany tries not to laugh.

“Bloody heck,” mutters Peter. “Now I’m hungry.”

She can feel them in their red hats behind her, and to the sides. She lets herself fall backwards onto the roof, instead of forward. She lands hard enough to crack the concrete, but it doesn’t seem to have affected her at all.

She stares upwards at the stars.

“A long time ago,” she decides, “I think, a wicked god of space came to Earth, and told us that there was no hope. That nothing meant anything. That nothing would ever mean anything. That we were just pathetic sacks of meat, trundling around about our lives. But people kept looking up at the sky anyway, dreaming and hungering and hoping, so it had to fly away.”

“That’s probably where the scissors came from,” Peter says.

“Oh?” Bethany says.

“Yeah. Some guy was just sitting at home trying to cut paper with a knife, and suddenly he thought, ‘you know, I bet there’s no hope. I bet I’m just a pathetic skin-sack full of meat. So I’ll stick one knife on this other knife, on a kind of hinge-like thing, and thus express my existential despair!’ Poor man! If he’d thought to add a third blade, you know, he would have seen that there are good things left in this mortal world.”

“No,” Bethany says.


She reaches for the sky. She takes a handful of space. She looks at it. It doesn’t seem much different than any other handful of nothingness. She blows it away.

“It’s not about whether your n-issor has two or three blades on it,” says Bethany. “It’s all about the quality of your hat.”

They’re silent for a while.

“I don’t like being a saint,” says Saul.


“I’m a druggie,” says Saul. “And I was a musician. I did Lethal rock and roll.”

“Oh, that’s who you are,” says Bethany. She beams. “Saul, right? I liked it. With the spinny table thing.”

“The . . . yes,” says Saul.

She gives him a thumbs-up.

“I don’t know who I am,” says Saul. “This isn’t who I was expecting. I mean, maybe it’s better? But it’s not right, it’s not like the me I was used to being at all.”

“Sometimes,” says Bethany, “we have someone inside us who we’re not expecting.”

“And then they surge out,” says Saul. “And take over!”

“No,” says Bethany. “That wasn’t where I was going.”


“It was going to be more, you know, inspirational-like.”

“Oh,” says Saul.

He laughs.

“Is that what you do? Inspire? I mostly keep people from getting gout.”


“Yup!” says Saul. “I point at people. I bless them. ‘Gout, get out!’ And it skedaddles. Or ‘you won’t get gout!’ And they don’t.”

“I can protect people against buggy software,” says Bethany.

Saul whistles.

“I’m aces at protect—” Peter stops. “Sorry.”


“I was interrupting. Buggy software. Go on!”

“That’s it,” Bethany says. “Like, bam, you are never going to be messed up by buggy software. I think I can also protect people against science in general but that seems a little rude.”

“I’ll pass,” agrees Saul.

There’s a bit of a lull. “At what, um . . . you?” Bethany asks, pointing at Peter.

“Oh,” Peter says. “Storms. At sea.”

“No, no, name first,” she says.

“Peter,” he says.

“Bethany,” she says. “I want one of those blessings.”

“Sure thing,” says Peter. “Bam! Protected.”

“Saul,” adds Saul.

“We’re like Pokemon,” giggles Bethany.

“Saul — saul?” says Saul. Then he frowns. “No, this is unfair. You two have much better names for Pokemon.”

“Er?” Peter questions. Then he blushes. “I mean —”

There is no salvaging that.

Saul steps in with, “I do worry, though, that I’ll point at someone and give them antigout, only, they’ll then have gout.”

“That’s impossible,” Bethany assures him.

“They could get a gout-like syndrome,” says Saul. “Or gout, that is saint-resistant. Like those bacteria.”

“Nobody ever proved,” says Peter, who is going to point out that it was never actually established that bacillus deuterocanonicus was saint-resistant, but Saul waves it off.

“Or those other bacteria!”

Peter makes a wry face.

“If you’re determined to bash your sainthood,” he says, “I’m hardly going to stop you. You go! You show that —”

Much as Peter would like to finish a sentence at this point, he doesn’t actually know who that would be showing.

“. . . that canonization committee?”

“The Pope,” guesses Saul, dismally. “That’s who I’d show, but I won’t show him. He will come along, instead, and he will rip the hat right off my head, and he will mock: ‘Saul! Your miracles are inefficacious.’”

“Really?” says Bethany.

“He wears a white, white hat,” says Peter.

“Oh, God,” says Bethany. “He does, doesn’t he. He’d eat you.”

They ponder this.

“Though,” says Peter, “realistically, I don’t think he has the necessary authority. This is England!”

“I can’t accept the Anglican explanation for the scissors,” sighs Saul. “That’s why I’m a filthy Papist.”

“That and the filth?” Bethany says.

“It’s hard climbing up here without anybody noticing,” says Saul. “I had to scale the trash chute!”

“There’s a stairway,” says Bethany, at which Saul’s face inevitably falls.

“I’m really bad at this,” says Saul. “Seriously. I should just go get myself a Devil hat or something. What color would that be?”

“He doesn’t wear hats,” says Peter. “He’s the Devil.”

“He could,” says Bethany, but Peter just shakes his head.

Their conversation gets boring for a while. It’s all about subtle details of color theory and ecclesiastical traditions, followed by this digression on NP-completeness that basically is just blah blah blah blah blah.

I mean, maybe in there somewhere they said the thing you’ve been waiting your whole life to be hearing. But I don’t think so.


I mean, probably not.

“So what we do, guys?” Bethany says, after a while. She’s feeling a little bit better.

“Saint stuff,” Peter says.

“I mean,” says Bethany, but they all know what she means. She means, what is that, anyway?

So Peter just answers. “I punched the Devil once. Right on the nose!”

“Oh!” says Bethany. “Violence? I can do tha —”

She hesitates. There’s a kind of sickness churning in her chest that suggests that possibly violence isn’t central to what a saint does.

“Oh, come on,” she whispers, to the stars.

Doom darkens around her. She glares at it. But it’s just a perceptual phenomenon!

The harder she glares at it the darker it just dooms.

She rips her eyes away.

“It’s probably a moral test,” she denies. “The hat knows that we, as saints, have to be strong enough to beat up evil even after our sainthood tunes and sharpens our inner awareness that hurting people is wrong.”

“Hats don’t lie about moral issues,” Saul informs her.


Saul hesitates. He looks at his hands. “Well, they’d better not. I’d have to take mine off!”

“But I’ve got to be able,” says Peter, “to smush scissors.”


“I can’t — I mean, it can’t be, I mean, violence can’t be wrong for me. I’m Peter.”

“You can’t reason with scissors,” Saul assures him.

“You can,” says Peter. “I just don’t want to.”

“You can?”

“You — well, I mean, not hand scissors,” says Peter. “But I could be a missionary to the scissors-swarm. If I wanted to. Which I don’t! Because they’re scissors. I mean, seriously. Nobody makes giant statues in honor of missionaries who diplomat with scissors. I want books. I want postcards. Big pictures saying, Peter:” and here he sweeps his hand to indicate how big the pictures will be. He’s imagining a glorious image of himself, there, on top of a pile of dead scissors; martyred, he, scissors in his eyes in the shape of crosses, scissors through his hands, and a glorious banner fluttering from him, and he declaims the words it reads: “He was awesome, and he did for ’em.*”

The footnote, which he doesn’t share aloud, reads: * also he was an astronaut and a ninja. So there.

“They’ve already sort of started,” says Bethany.

“Hm?” says Saul.

“They’ve started. I mean, the merchandizing and stuff. Down at the cathedral. There’s this eighty-year-old window mosaic of me blessing away some Oracle bug.”

“Huh,” says Peter. “You’d think somebody would have noticed that you hadn’t been born yet.”

“That’s cathedrals for you,” says Bethany. “They didn’t even figure out who Christ was for like four hundred years after he showed up at Dura-Europos, and I think the Vatican’s still got about five saints and a Second Coming up there that haven’t shown yet at all. You’re in front of a boot.”


“At the cathedral. In the image. You’re there, spreading your arms and glowing with your back to a really big boot.”

“That’s just awesome,” says Peter. He can’t tell whether he’s being sarcastic or not. He likes boots, but there’s a disturbingly Mother Hubbard vibe to this idea.

“I’d actually guessed,” says Bethany, “that you’d like, bless footwear.”

“Not unless there are storms or scissors,” says Peter, “and a sea of some sort involved.”

“I wish I could still kill people,” says Bethany.

She’s thinking of Edmund.

“I wish I could kill them, and eat their hats.”

I wish I had a pony,” says Saul.

Bethany giggles.

“I want to rule the universe,” counters Bethany, snapping her fingers and pointing at Saul. “From a giant throne in the cosmos. It’s made of lightning!”

“But my pony,” says Saul.

“No! I flippantly dispose of ponies. You shall have none. I am cruel!”

“I want to fight scissors,” says Peter.

Bethany waves a hand dismissively. “Go do it,” she says.

“It’s impossible!” says Peter. “They’re all in space!”

Bethany focuses on him.

“You’re playing this game wrong,” she tells him.

Peter makes a face. “Fine,” he says. “I wish I could ride a holy beanstalk-climbing wolf up a magical beanstalk to fight scissors. In space! And the evil aliens are there too.”

“Better,” says Saul. “I want a cure for cancer.”

“They cured cancer,” says Bethany.

“Not all of it,” says Saul.

“The Sheffield Cancer Repository doesn’t count! That thing will die if it stops being cancer.”

“Maybe it ought to die,” says Saul. “Stupid cancer.”

“Don’t be mean,” says Bethany.

Saul sighs.

“I want to be good,” he says.

Peter nods, like: I hear you.

“I want to be good,” says the saint, feebly, “but somehow — somehow I think I’m not.”


Posted by on Dec 24, 2013 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

How Rat Does Not Become A God

(with illustrations by Anthony Damiani; . . . click image to read)

– 4 –

Posted by on Jan 15, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

There aren’t very many of them.

“Just three of us,” mutters Saul.

They’re gathered in a nook under the stairs. They’re trying to figure out a pattern to the newly-hatted students. If there is one, it appears to be: saints are peculiarly rare.

“This bothers me,” says Saul. He waves his hand at a passing student and prevents them from later getting gout. As an unintended consequence of this outburst of miraculous energy, that student’s grade in English ticks upwards from a C- to a C. “You’d think that saints would be the most common sort.”

“Really?” says Peter.

“Well,” says Saul, “first, consider that we are disparate.”

“Sure,” says Peter.

“But more than that, we’re generically perfect.”

Saul gestures down his front as if to say: I don’t mean to brag, but seriously.

“You’d think more people would be . . . generally well-meaning, wanting to be good, you know, with a kind of diffuse generic impulse towards perfection . . . than dominated by an urge towards science adventuring or cannibalism. I mean, before the hat comes along and refines it.”

“Yeah,” says Peter, “but that can’t be what’s going on.”

“There are not anywhere near that many people with a generic urge towards cannibalism only waiting for a hat to bring it out,” Bethany agrees. “It’d be . . . I mean, there are a lot of scientists and adventurers in the unaltered population, but hardly any proto-cannibals.”

“Meat-eaters?” ventures Saul.

“I’d love a good roast,” says Peter.

“You can’t get to Lethal valedictorian by being a vegetarian!” says Bethany.

“Maybe some kind of inaccurate kerning engine —” starts Peter.

“That’s not the point,” says Saul.

“No,” says Bethany. “It’s not. It’s clearly some other impulse that’s being sublimated into murder and anthropophagous frenzy.”

“Like, the urge to rock a tight outfit,” says Saul.

“Or collect stamps!” offers Peter.

“Or both,” Saul suggests.

Bethany stares out thoughtfully into the hall. “I suspect decorum,” she says, “actually. They are an oddly polite people.”

Saul raises an eyebrow at her. Then he frowns.

“That is a disturbing notion,” says Saul. “Propriety is merely anthropophagous frenzy in a different hat?”

“And when I am blessing people,” says Peter, waving his hand in a generic gesture of blessing out at the hall, “I’m really expressing the pugnacious can-do sensibility of my youth?”

Under some circumstances Bethany would have answered this; but regrettably, she does not get the chance.

The generic blessing, spread too widely, precipitates a phenomenon.

See, even as Peter speaks, there are three members of the House of Hunger coming down the stairs at the other end of the hall. Keen-sighted Bethany has spotted them; Saul feels them coming and is frowning; but neither of them understands their danger in time to warn Peter away.

There is scarred Sally, with her single eye and her loathsome gait. She’s going to grow up to administer surveys one day, but for right now she’s a cannibalistic beast.

There is Lucy, the evil prophet of space. She’d really just planned to take a few local classes in prophesy while the Earth was still around and then destroy it, but now she’s got wolf-hunger wound through her and within her and it’s compromised her intentions. She is chewing on the inside of her cheek and trying not to eat through to the outside of it and remembering what it was like when she was focused on playing rock-paper-scissors with legendary rock-paper-scissors opponents and goats and not on killing and eating people.

Lastly there is Linus.

Linus didn’t expect to get a white hat. He didn’t expect to get any hat at all. He was just hanging out with Tom, getting really, really drunk in celebration of finding one another again, and it turns out that when Tom is drunk enough he will put a magic hat on the antichrist.

It’s a pretty good party game when you’re really drunk, kind of like pin the tail on the donkey, except that you can only play it once.

Tom has basically ruined it for the rest of us forever.

Not even Eldri, who’d made the Ultimate Frisbee robot, who’d made the perfect bingo robot, and even made Navvy Jim

Even Eldri couldn’t make a robot to play the drunkenly-put-the-magic-hat-on-the-antichrist game now.

Or at least, it wouldn’t ever be as good at it as had been Tom.

Linus’ eyes had paled. He’d fallen over. When he woke, though —

He’d laughed and laughed.

He hugged Tom, who’d tried not to look the least bit afraid while frantically feeling around on his belt for an emergency panic button. He hugged the table and his unfinished beer.

The white dog appeared. The white dog panted.

Linus hugged the white dog and it licked his face.

Then Linus’ vision blurred and the white dog was gone.

“That’s so much better,” said Linus. “I used to have an endless empty hollow in my soul. But now it’s like — it’s where I’m connected to Fenris and to eating people and to the wolf-gold, instead!”

He was laughing and he was crying and it was an absolute and utter relief to him, an end to pain for him, even though in fact nothing at all had changed.

Except that he sort of wants to eat Tom like a steak, and maybe the rest of the bar, stools and vodka and all, now; and he can laugh about that with Edmund afterwards — that’s the good thing, the best thing, the thing that makes it aces, so very, very sweet.

He’s still a boy with a hollow in him, and it’s still bigger than the world, but now it isn’t part of what holds him apart from the world any longer. It’s not a thing of loneliness any longer.

It’s something that brings him and Edmund — and Lucy and Sally and Bernard and all the rest — closer, instead.

So he’s walking with Lucy and Sally, and they’re laughing and talking, and there’s a really good chance that they were just going to walk by the saints without even caring about them, only —

Peter just blessed him, and Linus is, quite frankly, allergic to being blessed.

He sneezes. Vigorously!

“Bless you,” asides Sally.

He sneezes. Vigorously!

“Bless you again!” Sally says, even as Lucy chimes in slyly with a blessing.

“Oh, God, stop,” says Linus, waving and sneezing, which holy utterance causes his tongue to burst into flames.

Linus screams. He begins hitting his face with his palms to try to put his tongue out without actually reaching either of his hands inside his mouth. He appears to be playing the Indian in a quick impromptu game of “Cowboys & Indians,” except (a) he isn’t, (b) he wouldn’t, (c) nobody plays that any more, (d) hardly anybody played that in England to begin with, and (e) his tongue is on fire and he is the antichrist and a white-hatted theoretical cannibal surrounded by two similarly-anthropophagous beasts that are his peers.

Finally Linus begins chewing up large portions of the walls to put out the fire in his mouth. He gulps down most of a priceless painting by Michelangelo that was on loan to the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth. Damn it, antichrist!

“Ah,” mutters Linus, sinking to the ground, his belly bloated. “That’s ever so much better.”

“Peter,” says Bethany, disapprovingly.

“I didn’t mean to,” says Peter, setting his jaw.

“I think you need to give people more specific blessings,” says Saul. “Like, if I point at him and say, ‘gout, get out!’, well, I don’t think his tongue will catch on fire.”

“That’s true,” says Peter. “That hardly ever happens.”

“We should avaunt,” Bethany says.

“I don’t have any toothpaste,” says Peter, who has no idea what avaunting is.

“I mean, we should get out of here.”

“We could probably beat them up,” Peter says, “non-violently.”

“Let’s go,” says Bethany, but it’s too late.

Sally is standing in front of their nook. She is squinting at them.

“Would you like to be protected from bad weather at sea?” says Peter, because he’s aces at protecting people from bad weather, when they’re at sea.

There’s a long, cold silence.


“Actually,” Sally admits, “that would be kind.”

– 5 –

Posted by on Jan 20, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

Cheryl is standing on the shore.

Cod and sand eels swim by.

Out in the sea the serpent writhes. It is thrashing in the water, folded, paper, waxed and sealed, and wound throughout itself.

It is eating.

One creature has avoided it. One creature has slipped the serpent’s sight. It has hidden itself in the stirring silt of the ocean floor. It is not a sentient creature, not really. It has no brain to be sentient with, not really. It is an anglerfish. Yet, touched by the folding-wroth of the serpent, it has acquired a certain animus of destiny. It has become a potential ancestor of a sentient fish, of the Angler of Men, and some element of anti-temporal causality afflicts it with a touch of awareness in the now.

Because it could become something that knows the world of the future, it knows the world of the now. Because it could stand in the line of a timeless creature, it is infected with some elements of that timelessness now.

It feels things that it has never felt before. It becomes aware that it is hidden from the serpent. It becomes aware that it is not joining into the folding-wroth but is rather possessed by a certain angling-wroth, or possibly by that destiny-wroth that afflicts all things that believe, rightly or wrongly, that they shall one day be a part of something great.

It becomes aware that it has purpose.

It becomes aware of a path that opens before it, all full of food and life and destiny, until its genes pass on and escape it and it becomes of no further interest to its future spawn.

Then that future shutters.

The mind of the Angler of Men is defeated; it goes blank; its potentiality, as it has done before, and will do again before time’s ending, fades away.

There is a gun in Cheryl’s hands.

The gun is a hollow metal frame. It is a home construction. It shows clear marks of having been made in a student’s lab. However, as she releases the safety, this crudeness becomes inconsequential. A spark of brilliance, brighter than the sun, has formed within the metal. Lights that no one can possibly see run along the length of the gun, faster and faster, unless you happen to be a tree-falling-in-the-forest-sound-denialist, in which case, of course, there are no such lights at all.

The gun whines, high-pitched and strident.

Cheryl sights the serpent through the waters.

Cheryl pulls the trigger.

She parts the waters. She sears the deeps. The cod immolate. The eels immolate. The anglerfish and its destiny depart.

But the gun does not kill the serpent. It is hurt but it does not die; then it weaves itself through itself, reverses itself this way and that, and with each pass, with each awful breath, it is refolding, and the awful wound is healing, until even the scar of it is gone.

She fires again and again, she tries to outrace it — the serpent’s healing — but this does her no good.

It eddies away from her. It is gone.

– 6 –

Posted by on Jan 24, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

“Would you like to be protected from bad weather at sea?” says Peter, because he’s aces at protecting people from bad weather, when they’re at sea.

. . .

“Actually,” Sally admits, “that would be kind.”

. . .

“Well,” says Peter, “done, then.”

Sally grins. She gives a little fist-pump. Then her attention drifts to Bethany. She gives a kind of sad half-smile.

“Bugs,” says Bethany.

“Eh?” Sally says.

“That’s my blessing. I can protect you from buggy software. Like, when somebody releases a new tape or cartridge for a marvelous computing device, it’ll usually have some sort of logic error buried deep in the code. But not if I’ve blessed you it won’t!”

“I . . . don’t need that,” Sally says.

Linus’ hand is on Sally’s shoulder. It tightens.

“That’s what you say,” Bethany says. “Then, one day, bam! And you’re wishing, if only I’d listened to Bethany back then and got her blessing!”

“You paint a distressing picture,” Sally admits.

“It’s all right,” Bethany says. She looks away, then back. “I actually protected you against software bugs back when you started staring at us. I thought, what if I die? So I extended it then, lest I feel ashamed in Heaven.”

Sally is quiet for a while. Then, softly, she says, “I’m sorry I broke into your room and tried to strangle and eat you.”

Bethany waves the apology off.

“It was wrong of me,” Sally says. “Us. I mean, we oughtn’t have attacked you like that. You wouldn’t have gotten that hat on. I thought it was good, but —”

“But sometimes,” Bethany says, “when you try to kill and eat people, they get hurt?”

“Yeah,” Sally says. She nods a couple of times. “Yeah, like that.”

She squints at Bethany. She looks at Bethany’s half-hand. She licks her lips.

“Well,” says Bethany, “I won’t say that it’s all right, but it’s all right. Are — is this another fight, then, or just apologies?”

Peter looks up at Linus’ eyes and looks away.

“You’re all really stuck,” says Sally. It’s almost a whine. “You’re so stuck. It would make so much sense to kill and free you.”

“Come on,” Linus says. He starts to pull her away.

“I was a jerk,” Peter says.

It’s reluctant. It’s like it’s being forced out of him. And Linus snarls. Linus turns. Linus presses Peter back into the back of the under-stairs nook with one hand and his teeth are bared and he says, “Don’t.”

“I shouldn’t have said,” Peter says.

Don’t,” Linus snaps.

Peter closes his mouth.

“Don’t,” Linus, who will be Mr. Enemy one day, whispers. He lowers his hand. He looks down. “The more we eat, the hungrier we get. Did you know that? It’s so. And I think it must be that way with murder. The more we kill, the easier we kill. Kill you, Peter, and the next killing’s easier, and the next, and the next, and pretty soon I’m slaughtering kittens for canapés and murdering down the halls and the Devil won’t even bother putting on my skin because I’ll be wickeder than he. But I don’t know. I don’t know if I shouldn’t just do it anyway. So shut up.

“Because: you poor trapped creature.”

Peter doesn’t say anything. It’s not appropriate to say anything. Anything he could say would hurt Linus. So, against his own desire to speak, he doesn’t say anything. Linus shudders.

It is coalescing to clarity in Peter’s mind. The thoughts that circle the core of him like jaguars around this world of ours are spiraling inwards towards a sense-making.

He realizes that all he must do to reassure Linus here is to say something — say something normal, something imperfect, something that is not what a saint would say. Say something dumb, that he’ll regret later. Say something that’s what Peter would say, but not what a perfected Peter would say — not what Saint Peter, who is all that is right and good in him, would say.

There is something in the white hats that longs to free people from their chains; that will kill them, if it must, to set them free; this is both a preference and a hunger; so to comfort Linus he must simply say something unfettered, unburdened, something unaltered by his own red hat.

It’s very easy. It’s just like trying to mix yellow paint and blue paint to get green; only, instead of having yellow and blue paint, the only color that Peter has is red.

He can’t relax and be natural.

Relaxing and being natural is the right thing to do. Doing the right thing to do will only hurt Linus more.

His thoughts spiral faster and faster. Peter’s right eye pinkens.

Peter’s nose begins to bleed.

“Good grief,” says Lucy.

She shoves Linus. He snarls, strikes at her, and misses.

“Just eat him or get out of here, you blockhead,” Lucy says. “People are going to think you two are a couple if you stand there stammering at one another much longer.”

Linus makes sputtering noises. Peter rubs his nose.

“Well,” says Peter, because it’s the right thing to say under the circumstances, “I hear that when you hang out with the Devil, that’s like hanging out with everyone who’s ever hung out with the Devil —”

“Oh, God,” Linus says, and skitters away to make fake retching and gagging noises with his tongue on fire.

Sally, after a moment, goes to help, although neither of these things are actually activities with which she can assist.

They depart.

Lucy, though, she stays behind. She stares at them for a while.

Bethany opens her mouth to say something. Just before she does, Lucy speaks.

“You’re not good for us.”

“I know,” Bethany says.

“I don’t know what that boy’s got in his head,” she says, meaning Edmund, “but I’d rather not eat more people than I can afford to. Each person I eat, that’s got me that much closer to the wolf. That much more under his power. I can’t afford that. I don’t want this wolf-power. I want my own.”

“You’re not very good for us, either,” Bethany points out.

Lucy hesitates. She looks confused.

“I mean, with the eating.”

“Oh,” Lucy says. She waves a hand dismissively. “You’ll get over that, when you’ve been eaten.”

“That’s an extremely problematic position!”

“Yes,” says Lucy. “I’m an evil prophet.”

Bethany tilts her head. Then she smiles gently.

“Well,” she says, “An evil prophet that won’t suffer from softwa—”

Lucy almost rips her eyes out. Bethany ducks. Lucy follows up. Her knee comes up. Bethany is spiraling off through ninja-space; but there, outside the world, she sees Lucy’s hand, larger than world or void, come closing in. She staggers down to fall against the remnants of a Michelangelo with Lucy’s hand around her throat.

“No,” growls Lucy. “No blessings. I don’t want your hope. I don’t want your dreams. I will get bloody gout if I want to get bloody gout. You are a filthy planetary people and I will have none of it. None of it. Do you understand me?”

Bethany blinks.

Her backup gun — it was hidden in the wall, under the Michelangelo — is in her hand. It fires full-bore holy bullets into the gut of the evil prophet of —


That doesn’t happen. Lucy sees it coming. She explodes into a vaporous white pall that scatters through the hallway, just in time to realize that Bethany cannot possibly have a backup gun hidden in the wall behind the Michelangelo just waiting for Linus to eat his way down to it and then for Lucy to hold Bethany pinned there.

She re-condenses. She starts to shake her fist for rock-paper-scissors.

Bethany is moving forward, a shining lance of sacred steel in her hand —

Lucy shutters closed her third eye. She blinds herself to the future. She attempts to press the attack, but somehow this fails too; she is sprawled indecorously on the floor.

Bethany sits down beside her.

“Damn it,” whispers Lucy.

“I’m sorry,” Bethany says. She brushes aside Lucy’s hair.

“Your filthy world.”

Lucy pulls herself up. She looks at Bethany. Then she sighs.

“It’s not really your fault,” she says. “I guess. You’re just . . . doing that thing. That saint thing.”

“No,” says Bethany.


“I’m not really doing that saint thing,” says Bethany. “I’m just going through the motions. There isn’t actually any hope for me, any longer, so I’m just sort of living.”

“Oh,” says Lucy.

She smiles a little.

“That’s great,” she says. “That’s awesome. Thank you.”

Bethany looks perplexed, since she’d expected either sneering or sympathy. She’s even more confused when Lucy hugs her, not with comfort but with cheerfulness, and then doesn’t try to kill or eat her even a little bit!

“Um,” says Bethany.

“That’s what I want,” says Lucy. “That’s all I want. All I want is for everyone on your world to give up hopes and dreams and hungers and succumb to the will of the wicked god of space, and then to die when the Fan Hoeng space fleet arrives. I didn’t know. I’m so, so sorry. I wouldn’t have tried to eat you if I’d known.”

She pats Bethany on the shoulder. She walks away. She is whistling.

“Why do cannibals keep apologizing to me?” Bethany asks of Heaven, but Heaven has no real answers for the House of Saints.

– 7 –

Posted by on Jan 27, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

Tom works on a trap-line to make sure the nithrid doesn’t destroy his building. He mutters to himself. He looks up.

Emily is smiling at him.

He’s reminding her of her godfather Eldri, and of happy summers, and of how glad she was, just recently, to hear he’d gotten out of the hospital and that the cancers that had bloomed in him after the nuking of Bibury appeared to finally be gone.

He doesn’t know that, though.

To Tom, it’s just all summery sweetness. He looks at her and he sees what he imagines must be a fellow Dreamer.

“I have a hat,” he says.

He takes it off. He holds it out to her.

“I couldn’t,” she protests.

He tries again. “I mean,” he says. “It will refine you. It will awaken you. It will make all that flows through you, and is in disorder, into a single stream, and pure.”

She looks at it.

She shrugs. She tries on the hat.

She licks her lips. She doesn’t say anything. Her eyes film for a moment, then come up streaked with yellow gold.

“I . . . really need to stop giving my hat to random people,” confesses Tom.

– 8 –

Posted by on Jan 30, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments

She is struck down to nothing in that moment.

Her voice is taken from her — the Keepers’ House is silent.

The air is clear and still as glass.

It is gone. It is lost. It is all gone. It occurs to her that this must be what being an object feels like — what being a machine feels like. She goes to speak and the words do not reach her lips. She goes to act, and she does not act.

The hat has tuned her to a single thing, but she cannot find it — it is a thing that is nowhere present in her, nor even in the world.

She reaches for it, but she cannot find it; it tunes her every action down into the void.

She cannot breathe — no. She is breathing. Her lungs are moving on their own, like a good machine’s. She cannot think — but she is thinking. Her thoughts are moving on their own, like an orrery’s spheres.

She watches herself in a world that hath none of her within.

She can see its fault-lines, can see that Gotterdammerung is coming. She can see that the world is tearing itself apart around her. That it is roaring with a fitful noise.

She is cracking. She is breaking. It is lonelier here, on the far side of the glass of things, then anything she has ever known.

She tries to find something. She can find nothing. She is struck by a sudden pity, a sudden sympathy, for the lightning of the storm when she had held it still.

What have you done to me? she tries to ask Tom, but if he can read minds, he does not show it; the boy is babbling like a fool.

It could have ended there. She could have died there, caught in that moment, drowned in a sudden gold; but she doesn’t, instead.

She sees something. She remembers something. It’s just a flash from somewhere. It’s a glint of light.

And if she could tell you —

If she’d had the tongue to let them out, all those feelings that flowed through her when she finally caught hold of the tail end of a purpose, she might have cried out:

“Suddenly my life is filled with beauty!”

She might have leapt on Tom. She might have shaken his shoulders. She might have terrified the boy, and not incidentally broken his position on the pointlessness of the division of the sexes in the world. She might have told him, with a fervent energy, “It is so hard to live outside the world, Tom Friedman. We long for being, but we are not there. We go to act, but we do not move. Scissors fall. We have desires. We are perfected but we don’t know how to live in the presence of our perfection. But oh!”

She’d have turned. She’d have pointed. She wouldn’t have been pointing at a thing. She’d have been pointing at an idea. However, just possibly, as a member of the House of Dreams, he might have seen it anyway.

“Look at it, Tom,” she’d say. “Look at what we can be; we are golden. Oh, look, there is something, beneath the surfaces of things, there is something; oh see it live!

She doesn’t do that. She doesn’t say that. Not any of it.

The Keepers’ House is silent.

But —

At least —

As long as there are magical jaguars, catapulted skyward by Mayan sages, in a decaying orbit around the Earth, there is a beauty still remaining that will let the Keepers move.

Posted by on Jan 30, 2014 in The Storm that Saw Itself: Chapter 3 | 0 comments