Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 2 –

– 2 –

His father’s presence is almost physically stunning to Edmund.

Hunger surges in him.

It occurs to him that if he eats his father, then his father will be with him forever. He will be Edmund’s Mr. Gulley, forever, son and father to him; he will be wound through him and into him, and they will never be apart.

Fred is standing there. He’s just leaning against a fence, nearby, in his yellow, yellow hat.

There’s Morgan, too.

Five or six of them, standing in a creepy circle. It distracts young Edmund. He shakes his head a few times. How did they even get in there? Where’s the security?

“Dad,” he says. He waves vaguely at the students in their yellow hats.

Faster than his eyes can track, they disperse.

Edmund gnashes his teeth with hate, but after a while, he realizes that he’s kind of glad that they’d distracted him; that he didn’t kill and eat his Dad.

“Coming home was a mistake,” he says.

“Come in anyway,” says Mr. Gulley. “He’s downstairs if you want to go see him.”

“I want to go see him,” Edmund says.

“If you want to kill him, . . .” says Mr. Gulley leadingly.

He fetches a pair of boots from the foyer. He holds them out to Edmund.

Edmund shudders. He squints, to minimize the amount of his viewing field that is occupied by the boots. He gives his father a narrow-eyed look.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Dad,” Edmund says.

It strikes him suddenly that probably he could free the wolf by killing Mr. Gulley and eating him. He probably doesn’t even really need permission. After all, Vaenwode stole the wolf, didn’t he? That’s practically like giving license.

It will work. It makes sense. It is an excruciatingly good plan. A clever plan. Just tear him up and the wolf goes free —

“Dad,” says Edmund, “did you ever have this feeling like your clever plans might not be, you know . . . not so clever . . . ?”

Mr. Gulley looks down at the boots in his hand. He looks up at Edmund.

He sighs.

“All the time, son,” he says. “All the time.”

Fast forward a minute or two.

“It’s like,” says Edmund, “I think, how many of my life’s problems has eating people actually solved?”

Fast forward.

Edmund gestures vaguely. “There was this student,” he says, “and he had a rabbit’s soul caught in his shadow, and I could see the chains, I could tear the chains, I unhooked it, I let it go, but then I thought, shouldn’t I just eat him?”

Fast forward.

“It was probably the worst possible moment to tell Bethany how I used to feel about her,” Edmund says, “so I didn’t . . .”

Ah. Here we are.

“So you have to understand, Dad,” says Edmund.

He has his eyes closed in pain. This is because he is pinning his father against the wall with one hand, choking him, and his father has badly scratched his face. There is blood trickling down Edmund’s face. It tastes unbearably good. He can’t stop licking it. “You have to understand,” Edmund says, “I just want to stop wanting to eat you, and actually eating you is the only way. . . .”

Mr. Gulley is only barely conscious now.

“Dad,” says Edmund. “I’m so sorry. Dad. Tell me it’s OK. Please. I don’t want to —”

He puts Mr. Gulley down. He looms over him. He stands there and the light through the window is blinding all around him and Mr. Gulley cannot see.

“Say something, Dad,” says Edmund.

“If you’ll kill the wolf too,” says Mr. Gulley, “I’ll let you.”

Edmund swallows. He blinks a time or two. He sways. “Pardon?”

“Don’t let it go, son. It’ll eat the world. Kill it. Kill it and I won’t mind you eating me. I’ll face my death like a Gulley.”

“No,” says Edmund. “No, Dad. I’d be alone. Don’t make me. Don’t do this.”

“Do it and I’ll let you, son.”

The Edmund-beast shoves Mr. Gulley’s head back through the wall. It shakes the man’s shoulders. It drags him up and it bites through his shoulder in one snap. It lifts its head. It howls.

There is an answering howl.

It is an awful wind. It shivers it — the beast-it, the Edmund-it. It staggers it.

The Edmund-beast lets a bit of Mr. Gulley drop from its mouth. It steps back. Its irises are palest silver in a field of white, and there is no pupil to be seen.

The howl of Fenris does not fall off or fade, but grows louder. A wind begins to rattle at the house.

The Edmund-beast takes a step backwards. Then another.

The wind rises. Papers scatter. Cupboards rattle. Mr. Gulley bleeds.

“No,” whispers Edmund. “No.”

Upstairs, his bedroom door bursts open. The Edmund-beast staggers. His heart is flung, box and all, into the wall.

The wind rises further.

Wood splits, splinters, breaks.

Edmund is made open to the world.

His mind is drowned. He can feel every boot pulsing in the house. He can feel the hunger roaring through him, so much that he cannot find his mouth or hands. And he realizes at last his weakness, the one part of him the hunger doesn’t run through, the one thing that keeps stopping him, keeps slowing him down, keeps distracting him from his very simple goal of eating people and breaking the bonds upon the wolf, his heart, but he can’t find it, he can’t get to it and devour it, he can’t even figure out simple things like stairs and doorways with his senses so utterly overwhelming and alive.

It beats, upstairs from him, hideous and loud, like the clanking, rattling footfalls of a cat. It won’t stop beating.

He passes out.



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