Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 8 –

– 8 –

Edmund’s residential assistant fears him. The fear rises to take over the boy’s life. The fear becomes a chain on him. The boy locks himself in his room. He does not come out. He misses his classes. He begins to starve.

Edmund stands outside the door.

“Be reasonable, Ben,” Edmund says.

There is only a howl and a scream from beyond the door.

“I’m making a request,” Edmund says, “to you as a residential assistant. There is a student on this floor who is freaking out and locking himself in his room and never coming out. Help him. Help him come out into the light.”

He can’t hear a response.

He goes to his room. He plays loud music. He tries not to think about it.

He can’t not think about it.

The sense of trappedness from the room down the hall grows and grows. Finally he can’t take it any longer. He bites through the door in three great snaps. He picks Ben up. He shakes him.

“Quit it,” he says. “I’ll show you fear!”

And once upon a time there was a bear — a spirit of the olden days, a creature and a power from the time of fable — and it was born for Ben and for no other. It would have come to him in his childhood, and later on; given him strength, taught him magic, and helped him in such troubles. It would have saved him from his awful fate; but it is frozen under the ice.

It is buried in the winter that Hans called down, frozen as part of Hans’ gift to us —

Frozen such bears; and the nithrid bound; and Fenris chained; great Pepsi drowned —

So that we could live in a world that makes sense, a world stomped round, and not in a world of talking bears and wicked gods and world-devouring wolves.

That is why there is no bear for Ben.

Nor no princess, neither.

Nor no hero riding on a great white horse to gallop in and save him.

He is trapped. He is broken. He is in an agony of fear, and there is only Edmund — of all the voices of magic and transcendence that there could have been — to help him through it.

There is only Edmund to help him; so Edmund does, and in the only way he can.

He shows him fear.

If you actually have something bad happen to you, after all, it turns out that it’s a lot less scary after that. Like, if you’re afraid of swimming, and then you go swimming, even by accident, you’ll be less afraid of it after. Or, if you’re afraid that Edmund will eat you, and then he eats you, you’ll stop being afraid of it at all.

It’s just like Lucy’d said!

Edmund sits in Ben’s room. He licks off his fingers, very carefully. His eyes are white and his face is pale and he is panting like a dog. He looks sick.

He’d like to throw up all the Ben in him but he just can’t.

“That was a mistake,” he says. “I didn’t mean to do that. I just lost control.”

He should kill himself, he thinks, before he makes another mistake like that. That is the only proper course. He should just lift his hand to his mouth, it’s all tasty with Ben’s blood, right? And take a bite. And then just keep going and going —

He’s actually got the side of his index finger between his teeth when he flashes on the wolf.

He pulls his hand out of his mouth.

It hurts him. It hurts him so badly not to eat Edmund Gulley. He wants to eat Edmund Gulley so very badly.

But if he eats Edmund Gulley, then who will free the wolf?

He goes back to his room. He’s eaten most of it before he can stop himself. He’s round like a ball, until he’s not. Then he huddles in the corner of his empty room and shakes.

He wants to eat more of his room, but not as much as he wants to eat Edmund Gulley; and he wants to eat Mister Gulley, Mister Edmund Gulley Senior, most of all.

It’s almost time for summer break, as it happens.

He thinks about that.

It’s getting hot. Classes are ending. It’s almost time for Edmund Gulley to go home.



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