Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 17 –

– 17 –

For a while Linus’ presence makes Edmund happy; but that happiness frays from him over time.

Each time Edmund sees the nithrid he is reminded of the blood.

Each time he sees — practically anybody that isn’t Linus — he’s reminded of the fact that eating people is considered contrary to the cornerstone principles of decorum, even at the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth. And yet he’d like to. He really . . . kind of . . . would.

Each time he goes to bed, in his furless bed, in his bed that does not breathe, that is not warm, or, well, not warmer than a normal bed, at any rate, he is reminded that he is alone and far from his wolf, for all that the wolf is in his blood, is in his bones, is something that trickles through him every moment when he breathes.

He can’t take it any longer.

He begins to brood. He begins to listen to Linus’ poetry and it speaks to him. He begins to wander aimlessly through the foggy nights.

He goes to that promontory of the hat cemetery that curls through Brentwood to the edge of the Lethal Magnet School and he climbs up and he throws down his hat as an offering, stomps it thrice, and lopes up to sit on a high peak of dead, abandoned hats and sulk.

Much to his surprise, he is not alone.

“Oh,” says Tom.

He looks Edmund up and down. He tilts his head to one side.

“Why do dwarves have to tie up everything good and marvelous in chains that hurt them?” Edmund says.

“It is a mystery,” agrees Tom.

He looks up at the sky. His eyes glint with dream-light. One day some child on a distant world will look back down at their sky; will catch a glimpse of Thomas’ dream-wroth; and its alien heart will move.

That is countless millennia from now.

That is not today.

“I’d say,” says Tom, “that when we encounter an alien purpose, a thing that moves but not in the way that we expect it to move, that has a dream that is its dream and not our dream, that it is natural to want to tame it to our own ideas. To simplify it, to bind it down into that which aligns with ourselves, and that which is our enemy, so that there is no expression of its being that is not in those terms that are our own.”

“That isn’t an answer,” says Edmund.

“Hm,” says Tom.

He takes down his hat. He holds it in his hands. He plays with the rim of it. “Sometimes I think I am my own worst enemy,” he says.

“Yeah,” says Edmund. He looks at his hands. Sometimes he wants to bite his fingers off, gently, chew them, swallow them, feel the warmth of Edmund in his gut. Sometimes he wants to bite off his own head. He gets so hungry.

Then he does a double-take, because the hat’s come off.


“Huh?” says Tom. He waves a hand vaguely. “Yes. That is my name. Thomas the First, if you like, or Tom Friedman. I am the head boy of the House of Dreams —”

“Dude,” says Edmund.

“And if you are torn,” says Tom. “If you are at war within yourself, or unfocused; if you are given to two destinies, or to no destiny at all —”

It percolates, like svart-drink flowing through the ill-named and ill-omened coffee-makers of the House of Dreams. He realizes.


He is crying. Why is he crying? He can’t imagine it. He’s Thomas I, of the House of Dreams. He is basically a god. Also, a science adventurer. But he can’t help it. He is laughing and he is crying.

“Linus is here too, man,” says Edmund. “Oh, God. This is so awesome.”

“Linus?” says Tom. “Linus? I looked, man. I thought the Devil’d taken him.”

“He was being shuffled through a series of increasingly baroque and terrifying foster homes, as is traditional in our beloved, post-cisorian twenty-first century England, Tom! But now, he’s here!”

“How is he?”

“He’s great,” says Edmund. “He’s great. He is sneaking into a nunnery even as we speak.

Tom squints at him.

“Fine,” says Edmund, “it’s a school trip to Leominster. But it totally counts.”

Tom laughs.

After a while, he wipes his eyes. He blows his nose. He smiles.

“Wow,” he says.

He flops down on the hill. He leans back. He looks up at the stars.

“Wow,” Edmund agrees. “You’d think there’d be some kind of spiritual radiation that’d keep him out, but apparently that’s only if he forgets to bring his chicken blood.”

“Ah,” sighs Tom, reminiscing.

After a while he says, “I was going to offer you my hat. Why was I going to offer you my hat?”

“I — don’t know?” says Edmund.

“There were dwarves,” says Tom.


“You were saying something about dwarves and rot. Only, I wasn’t paying the least bit of attention.”

“We were conversing!”

Tom smiles apologetically. “That’s my marvelous auto-conversation ability,” he says. “I was totally thinking about dead mice.”

“Ha,” says Edmund.

He leans back too. He sketches in the sky with a finger. It doesn’t take, although maybe — after all his lessons — there’s a little tiny bit of violet light that follows it. Maybe. It’s ambiguous.

“Do you always give your hat to people when you start thinking about mice?” he says.

“Only you, Ed. Only you. Seriously, what’s up?”

“There’s a girl,” Edmund says.

“O ho,” says Tom. “You sly dog.”

“What? No!”

Tom giggles.

“Sorry,” he says. “I have just always wanted to call you a sly dog.”

Edmund cracks up. Then he tells Tom, “That is by no means funny, you know.”

“I know.”

“I have a wolf bound through me and in me,” says Edmund. “I want to eat you. I mean, right now. I mean, the kind of eating that leaves you dead.”

“Sup dog,” Tom offers.

Edmund winces.

“Tom,” he says. “Seriously.”

Tom sticks his tongue out. “You cannot eat me, Edmund. I am a science adventurer. I would just subdue you — with science! Besides, your girl is unlikely to approve. She would look at you and the slaver and the bits of Tom you have on your mouth and say, ‘Eek! You cannibal! This relationship is over!’ I trust you to avoid such eventualities as that.”

“Bah,” says Edmund. “I’ll just tell her I was saving the world from ophidian planet-inheritors.”

Tom’s smile flickers. It goes out. Then it comes back on a bit.

“Perhaps,” he says.

“She isn’t really a girlfriend, anyway,” says Edmund. “She isn’t into that kind of thing. She’s more of a —”

He waves his hand around.

“Candidate Doom Team member, if you know what I mean.”


“I do want to free them,” says Edmund. “I want to let them go.”

He’s sitting up now. He’s grinding his fingers in the hats. He’s trying to find something, some way, to let his emotions out, but there’s nothing, he can’t, there isn’t, all he can do is vigorously massage dead hats.

“They’re so hurt,” Edmund says.

“If you want,” says Tom, “I can give you something —”


Tom has stopped. He is silent for a while. “Pardon. I am just wondering if my marvelous auto-conversation ability has led me out onto a conversational branch which, now that I am paying attention to it, I should retreat from. This is a transparently bad idea. But —”


Tom smiles. “But it is through exhaustive implementation of our bad ideas that we discover at last the good ones. If you want to let ‘them’ go. If you want to become something that can let them go. Wolves that eat the world. Whatever? I can help you.”

“Really,” says Edmund flatly.

“I can’t predict what’ll happen,” says Tom. “Maybe that’s not even really who you are, you know? Maybe deep down you’re not a wolf-boy but a proper science adventurer. Or even some kind of holy saint! But —”

He shakes his head, vigorously.

“No matter. I can give you purpose, Ed. And I can make you more.”

“You can help me,” says Edmund. He licks his lips. He looks at Tom and his eyes catch the light of the drifting moon. “You can help me free Fenris?”

“Aren’t you supposed to do that anyway?”

Edmund’s voice has gone to begging: “Can you help me?”

In his head is the memory of the nithrid breathing, and the blood dripping from her mouth, and his conception of the spikes; and Fenris’ horrid wounds —

“Yeah,” says Tom.

Tom tosses him the hat.

Edmund looks it over. He turns it upside down and right-side up. Then, with a shrug, he puts it on.

He flails backwards.

Edmund seizes there magnificently upon that hill of hats; he flutters like a kite in a gale-wind. He tries to tear the hat from his head; he screams; his eyes roll back and his hands twitch and his fingernails sharpen and grow long.

It is pounding through him. He cannot think.

His mind keeps glancing off of the walls of the hat’s structure in him like a dazed man staggering into walls of polished marble, granite, slate. They are slick, the eyes of his mind are confounded, he cannot focus on the things that obstruct his thoughts because no sooner does he see them than his attention chases its own reflection in great slick streams into his hidden thoughts. His mind bruises itself from within; flails; he tastes bird’s spit, four simian arms, and what he can only imagine to be the torment of the willing, the clanking footfalls of some cat, the bearing witness to the wrongness, and the perseverance of hope.

Hope tastes, in case you’ve ever wondered, like a hat.

Lacerations spread around Edmund’s four limbs. He is cut, he is scarred, he is ripped and mended in a moment. Chalk-white flecks, pale veining, and bits of silver spread from the whites of his eyes into the iris and the black.

The white wolf-gold that is wound through him and around him is pulled shockingly straight and tight against his soul; it is snapped out from both directions like a cord pulled suddenly into a knot; his own soul frays. The hunger in him explodes; it alloys with him, within him, and through him, until there is no part of him that is not whole and sound and rife with the hunger’s rancid touch.

He is made starved in a world of chains.

The kether-hat floats from his head and he scrambles in the graveyard until he finds a hat of pale white to match his soul.

He rests there, for a moment, on his hands and knees in the hat cemetery. His head hangs low with its white cap on.

Tom picks up his hat. He stares at Edmund thoughtfully.

“I’d hoped you’d be in Dreams,” he says. “But Dreams wears a night-hat. What are you? What name is given to your House?”

An intuition moves in him.


“Tom,” says Edmund. His voice is weak.


“Can you do me a favor, Tom? Please?”

“Anything,” Tom says.

He tries to take in a sharp breath of pain and stops. Edmund’s hand is in Tom’s lungs. It’s pulling out a handful of . . . stuff. Edmund’s shoving Tom down onto the hats. Tom’s heart beats rapidly. He can’t think. He can’t breathe. He is drowning in the stench of hats.

His body is heavy.

“Can I kill and eat you, Tom?” Edmund clarifies, just in case Tom will live long enough to confirm or retract his broadly stated answer. Edmund slurps the bite from his hand, drops onto Tom, and prepares to rip out Tom’s neck with a snap of his jaws.

A dream-wroth falls onto Tom instead.

Tom ducks aside. He rolls. He staggers.

He shudders out a mental command to his robot bees. They swarm out from their hiding places in Tom’s backpack and the little nest in his hat. As Tom holds the crowning hat to his head and rolls away, the bees pour over Edmund and distract him from his prey.

Black blindness threatens to drown Tom’s vision.

He digs an ampule out of his pants pocket. Edmund is snarling, screaming. Tom jams the ampule into his own arm.

He watches Edmund clawing at the bees, then runs.

Ten seconds. He guesses that he has ten seconds; and —

The bees are gone. His life is gone. He is —

Tom glances back.

Edmund’s head is moving like a squirrel or dog preparing for a jump. Tom charts things. He sees a hope. He moves, he runs, his head is down, he can’t breathe any more, his heart is stopping —

Edmund leaps. He lands a foot from Tom, intending to press his attack, but he doesn’t.

He is standing, to his surprise, on a patch of quickfelt, the most hazardous of haberbogs, an Edmund-devouring morass of hypersaturated hats.

He sinks.

“I’m dead,” whispers Tom. “I’m dead.”

He is still walking.

“I should be dead by now.”

He cannot understand how he is still walking. Science cannot explain it. This makes him weep and then go into denial.

He is alive not because of the ampule, or because of some hardiness in his body, but because of an alien vitality. It pours down into him from the sky; from the world; from the crown of his wicked hat.



One Comment

  1. Edmund’s wolfiness, Tom’s robot bees, Linus’ depressing poetry = “when the dog bites/ when the bee stings/ when I’m feeling sad. . .” as accompaniment to Jane’s elixir ingredients? Perhaps?!

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