Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 3 –

– 3 –

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.”



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