Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 9 –

– 9 –

Mr. Gulley buys a muzzle and thirty pairs of boots. He cuts the boots to pieces. He sews them together into a larger boot. He can barely lift it. He builds an automated boot-throwing machine, or “bootapult.”

Edmund calls.

“Hey,” Edmund says. His voice is congested. He’s been crying.

“I bought a muzzle,” Mr. Gulley tells him.

“. . . oh,” says Edmund.

“Like for Hannibal Lecter,” says Mr. Gulley. “For when you’re home.”

“Dad,” says Edmund. “I’d eat the muzzle.”


“No,” says Edmund. “You don’t get it. I’ve eaten death rays. I can eat the muzzle.”

“Leverage,” Mr. Gulley protests feebly. Then he looks at the muzzle. He thinks about it. He thinks about what he would do if he were muzzled and he wanted to eat the muzzle. He’d put his hand over the air hole, he thinks. He’d eat the air. He’d swallow, and there would be vacuum; the muzzle would crumple in.

At least I have never had cavities, thinks Mr. Gulley, to balance out a peculiar momentary ingratitude for the strength of Gulley mouths and Gulley teeth.

“. . . I see,” he admits.

“Should I stay here?” Edmund asks. “Over the break?”

“No,” says Mr. Gulley.

“I can stay,” Edmund says. “I’m a monster, Dad. I . . .”

He can’t make himself say it. He can’t tell his father about Ben. He just repeats it: “I’m a monster.”

“I almost visited Fenris today,” says Mr. Gulley.


“I forgot he’s going to eat me,” Mr. Gulley says. “I was just, you know, lonely. And I wanted to talk to somebody about my marvelous Fenris-killing bootapult. And I was actually — I mean, the door was open, son.”


“The world’s ending, son. You know it. I know it. We’ve maybe got decades, but more likely it’s months. It’s coming. And it’s almost summer, son. Come home.”

“Dad,” says Edmund.

Then, far away, he hangs his head.

“Sure thing, Dad.”

After a while Mr. Gulley hangs up. He goes down to the basement. He starts to open Fenris’ door.

He freezes.

He leans his head against the wall. Then he shakes it. Then he goes back upstairs. He gets the automated boot-throwing machine. He gets the boot. He puts them in position.

Gingerly, using a remote control device, he opens Fenris’ door.

He looks down at his wolf.

The wolf looks at him.

Fenris is leaner than a greyhound, wiser than an owl, massive, terrible, and sleek. The wolf has been licking at one leg where it is hurt by the chain.

“You’re not supposed to do that,” Mr. Gulley says, helplessly.

He almost runs forward to do something about it. He isn’t sure what. To hit Fenris’ ear and cry, “Bad wolf!” To apply medicine to the wound. To touch his wolf and weep.

He stops himself.

“Whatever,” says Fenris.

The wolf looks up at the boot-throwing machine.

“You have a boot.”

“I do,” says Mr. Gulley.

“That is nowhere near big enough,” says Fenris.


“You’re planning to stomp me with that?” says Fenris. “It is not big enough. You could try with a boot one hundred times bigger and that might be enough for me. Or,” and here the wolf is nonchalant: “not.”

Mr. Gulley triggers the automated boot-throwing machine.

It flings the boot at Fenris. It stomps the wolf. It stomps the wolf hard in the face.

The wolf shakes it off.

After a bit, the wolf begins to lick the fallen boot.

“I figured,” says Mr. Gulley.

The wolf twitches an ear. It doesn’t bother to say anything.

“I wasn’t expecting that to work,” Mr. Gulley clarifies.

“Of course not.”

“I just was hoping — I thought, if Heaven wanted to give me a miracle, that I should at least sew together thirty pairs of boots to earn my shot.”

The wolf dangles its tongue. Then it shakes its head a little and licks the boot some more.

“Maybe it’s poisonous,” says Fenris.

Gingerly the wolf pulls the boot onto its tongue and gulps it down. It waits to see if it will become sick or die.

After a while it says, “I don’t think it’s going to work.”

Mr. Gulley sits down on the stairs.

“I’m not going to eat you, gumby,” Fenris says.

“You are,” says Mr. Gulley.

“I’m not,” Fenris argues.

“You are.”

He leaves the door open. He wanders upstairs.

The wolf’s stomach rumbles and grumbles, down below.

It occurs to Fenris after a while that it probably oughtn’t have eaten a gigantic boot.



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