Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 11 –

– 11 –

Peter knocks on Edmund’s door. It is one in the morning.

Edmund sniffles.

Then he straightens. He pushes emotion away. He goes to the door. He opens it. “Yeah?”

“I heard you,” says Peter. “Through the wall.”


“Everything all right?”

“What?” says Edmund. “No. I wasn’t doing anything through the wall. I don’t even have tear ducts. My heart’s in a box. I’m Edmund Gulley.”

Peter looks the room up and down. Edmund’s stuff isn’t even unpacked yet.

“That’s fine,” he says. “Want to get a coffee?”

“It’s three in the morning,” says Edmund, dismissively and inaccurately.

“This is Lethal,” says Peter. “They’ve got an all-hours bar, for crying out loud, even though they’re not allowed to serve anybody. Don’t worry about getting coffee.”

Edmund frowns. “But children aren’t to have alcohol,” he says. “This isn’t France, you know.”

“Right,” says Peter. “Get some shoes on and come on.”

Edmund frowns. Then he shrugs. Peter’s confidence is efficacious. Edmund goes to his closet. He throws on a pair of shoes and a jacket. He wiggles his toes in the shoes. He thinks about taking them off, putting on a pair of socks, and then putting the shoes back on again.

He decides to be wayward.

“Look at me,” he says, a few minutes later, as they creep down the stairs. “One night in this place and I’ve gone bad. Shoes without socks in!”

“Yes,” says Peter.

They reach the quad. Peter scans the place.

“They catch us,” Peter says, “and they’ll give us a hiding.”

“We’re already in hiding,” mutters Edmund.

“But,” says Peter, cunningly, “the other side of that is, we’re supposed to sneak around a little. It’s all part of the training.”

Edmund squints. Tom and Cheryl are walking past in the quad.

“What about them?”

“That boy’s got a hat,” says Peter. “He’s not like one of us.”

“One of what?”

“Human,” says Peter.


“Listen,” Peter says. He signals Edmund and then scurries across the quad towards the administration building. He doesn’t actually say anything until they get there and are pressed against its outer wall. A searchlight sweeps past behind them. “That boy is practically scissors. Don’t trust him. Just look at his hat.”

“I’m looking,” concedes Edmund. The kether-hat’s so vivid he doesn’t even recognize his old friend underneath.

“And that’s in the dark, at fifty meters!”

“I see your point,” Edmund says.

Peter pulls a bit of wire out of his collar. He uses it to pick the lock on the building. Edmund eyes him. They go in.

“I feel conflicting imperatives,” says Edmund.


“On the one hand,” Edmund says, “I want to punish my father for sending me here by becoming a bad child. On the other, I don’t like all this sneaking around and breaking into buildings.”

“Listen,” says Peter.

They’re on the second floor by now. Peter turns the lights on. He heads for Principal Goethe’s office. He turns on its coffee machine. He gets out a couple of cups.

“They wouldn’t even have a bar on campus,” says Peter, “if the students weren’t supposed to break in and steal liquor. But I don’t like being drunk. It makes my head funny. So I sneak at a higher level.”

Edmund looks around.

“We could sneak in and adjust somebody’s grades?” he proposes.

“Geez,” says Peter disapprovingly. He makes a face.


Peter shakes his head. “You have the manners of a wolf,” he informs Edmund.

He pours them each a giant cup of coffee. Peter’s cup says, “#1 Principal.” Edmund’s cup says, “Thieving Scum.”

“Shouldn’t we—”

Edmund looks between the cups. He wants to offer to switch.

“Let’s stand on the roof and look out over the quad and drink coffee and brood,” says Peter. “Since you’re crying anyway.”

Edmund had completely forgotten. He also denies it. “I was not. It was keening.”

“It’s hard the first day,” Peter says.

“Yeah,” says Edmund.

They sneak up the stairs. Peter stops for a moment. “Dang,” he says. “Forgot to turn the coffee maker off.”

“Do we go back?”

“Nah,” Peter says. “I’ll just . . . scrub it out tomorrow night.”

“That’s very diligent,” Edmund says.

They stand on the roof of the administration building. They stare out over the quad. They lean against the Lethal railing. They drink coffee. They brood.

“It’s a good school,” says Peter. “They teach us combat, you know. And I’m training to be a ninja.”

“You?” says Edmund.

“Don’t knock it!” says Peter. “A man’s got to have an edge if he’s going to take on a scissors-swarm someday.”

“Yeah, but that’s so . . .”

Edmund looks for words. He takes a gulp of coffee.

“So Oriental.”

“Don’t knock the Orient,” says Peter. “It’s all one world from space.”

“Well, yeah,” says Edmund. He shrugs. “It’s just, you’re kind of — a solid-looking bloke.”

Peter sighs.

Edmund sighs.

After a while, Edmund says, “At home there’s a wolf larger than a horse.”

Peter looks sideways at him.

“He’s so beautiful,” says Edmund. “And so awful hurt.”

“I had a dog,” Peter admits. “But he died.”

“My Dad,” says Edmund. “I mean, Edmund, I mean, Edmund senior, Mr. Gulley, he thinks I’ve got to kill the wolf. Like, some kind of life lesson thing. We’ve all got to grow up and kill our own wolves or whatnot. It’s rubbish.”

“There’s a class in wolf-killing,” Peter says.

“No surprise.”

“There’s a whole series,” Peter says, “actually. Although I’m a scissors-track man, myself.”

“Rocks and rot?” says Edmund.

“What?” says Peter. “No, no. Serious scissors-killing. Like —”

He waves vaguely.

“Cannons, or ninja moves. Scissors can’t stand ninjas. They’re just so lethal!”


Peter sips at his coffee. Edmund broods.

“I don’t want to kill it,” says Edmund. “I mean, I kind of guess I’ve got to, it’s my burden, but I won’t.”

“Why’d you got to?”

“It’s a world-killing wolf,” says Edmund.

Peter squints at him. He drains his coffee. He tosses the cup down to shatter against the quad.

“Skaal?” says Edmund, hypothetically.

“Haha!” Peter says. “Skaal.”

He turns on the railing. He leans against it and looks at Edmund.

“So that’s your story,” he says. “You’ve got a wolf in you.”

Edmund looks away. “Yeah.”

“Well,” says Peter. “I say, you don’t have to kill it. Just give it a good punch in the nose. That’ll show it who’s boss!”

“No,” says Edmund. “No, it wouldn’t.”

“One of them choke-collars?”

“That’s cruel!”

“My Mum says they’re perfectly OK,” says Peter.

“Well, your Mum —” Edmund hesitates. He can’t bring himself to insult somebody’s Mum, no matter how wayward he ought to be. “Your Mum is possessed of inaccurate notions, that’s what she is. She hasn’t seen somebody really choked proper.”

“That’s true,” concedes Peter. “My unarmed combat class was unexpectedly enlightening.”

Edmund finishes up his coffee. He puts the cup down delicately on the roof for the janitorial staff or, more likely, some hapless smoker, to discover.

“I want to let it free,” says Edmund.



“Freak,” says Peter. He grabs Edmund and he noogies him. Edmund is too distracted by the novelty of this to properly fight back. Eventually Peter lets him go. “Well, if you need any help taking it down after, or, you know, whatever, I’m right next door.”

“What?” says Edmund, blankly.

Lights come on in one of the offices below them.

“Erp,” says Peter. “Looks like it’s rounds.”

A clock tolls two, softly, in the distance.

“I’m out,” says Peter, and he’s over the railing, vanishing into shadows, and he is gone.

“What?” says Edmund, blankly, again.

He stares down after Peter.

Then he yells, “Hey!”

Edmund’s gotten better at this since his days with the Doom Team. He’s gotten stronger.

There is a wolf within him and in him. It is woven through him like a metal thread through a handkerchief or the Gulley funds through the economies of the world. He’s older and he’s stronger now. When the security guard bursts out onto the roof and sees him Edmund does not bother fighting him, or surrendering to him, but simply pins him with gleaming animal-eyes in the darkness, freezes him like a rabbit before a snake, and walks past him, down, and out.

When he gets back to his dorm he beats on Peter’s door, he complains at him, he says, “Open up, you beast!”

But Peter just calls out, “Studying!” and finally Edmund has no choice but to go, unsuccessfully, to bed.



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