Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 6 –

– 6 –

Sid is in his room. He is hanging out. He is trimming his nails. He is really getting into it. He’s digging at them now with a pair of Lethal-looking nail clippers and a file. He’s having to go in under the cuticle to get any more, and he’s lost his socks under the pile of nail scraps on the floor.

He’d do something else, he thinks, if there were any options.

It feels good, sort of, because it’s perfect; because he’s being perfect; because he’s following in exactitude the path that was laid out for him by the hat. But it feels bad because of the agony. The agony is the part he doesn’t like. The agony and the blood.

He smiles vaguely at the mirror. He looks at the red from his fingers and his toes. He licks his dried-out lips.

“OK,” he mutters to himself, as he reaches six hundred clips. “One hundred more and I get a pony!”

He won’t get a pony.

“OK,” he mutters, a little later. “One hundred more and I don’t have to have the spiders in my bed any more.”

He won’t be able to take them out of the bed. They’ll crawl on him when he tries. He’ll freak out and hyperventilate and fall into bed and wake up in the morning with a spider on his nose.

“One hundred more and —”

A lightning-struck Simon-says-playing robot bursts in through his locked, chained door and falls over, melting, on his floor.

Sid skitters up and braces his back against the wall.

“I wasn’t doing anything bad!” he informs the robot.

The robot drips.

Sid thinks about rubbing his hands in the hot metal now that he’s got almost all of his nails trimmed. He probably shouldn’t. If my hands are covered in hot metal, he says to himself, they might take me away to the hospital. Then I won’t be able to hurt myself any longer.

He wears a colorless hat. It’s a colloid of mucous and yarn.

“It’s just the nature of the world,” Sid tells the robot. His certainty is wavering. He’s not sure why his certainty is wavering. The pain in his fingers and toes is getting louder and he’s feeling a little dizzy and unsure. “We’re too attached to things! So we hurt ourselves. It’s certainly not anything that is against dormitory regulations.”

He is trying to frantically justify himself to the dying robot but there is no point in it because he is not prefixing any of his justifications with ‘Simon says’.

He can’t make sense of his own thoughts any longer anyway.

“Oh,” he realizes, after a moment. “Guys.”

They’re standing in a creepy circle around him. He swallows a time or two. The first time it goes down the wrong pipe. He gives them a faint smile.

He sits down.

He doesn’t like it when they’re there. The comfort of knowing that he’s doing the right thing goes away when there are people standing around him in a creepy circle and their yellow hats, staring at him with their golden eyes. But on the bright side he doesn’t seem to get any more hurt while they’re there.

“I think,” he says, “Um. I think. Maybe, um, some ointment.”

He nods towards the medicine cabinet. He’d get it out but there’s a melting robot in the way.

“It’s a Simon-says playing robot,” says Emily.

He startles vigorously and scuttles back along the floor and the movement of his toes on the ground makes them feel like they’re on fire.

“You spoke!” he says, although he is too busy not screaming in pain to actually finish the word ‘spoke.’

“I got an amplifier,” she says.

“A Simon says playing robot,” he says. His eyelid twitches. “Can they do that now? Simon says don’t melt. Don’t die, robot.”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“No,” Sid says. He giggles a little. He is crying now. He wishes they weren’t standing there staring at him. But he thinks that if they weren’t standing there staring at him that maybe tonight would finally be his chance to eat the fermented fish heads he’s been burying.

“Hey,” Emily says.

She touches his shoulder. He tries not to flinch away from her.

“Listen,” he says. “Listen. I know you mean well. But you don’t have to — you can’t just go around throwing burning robots through my door and standing in creepy circles around me. You shouldn’t stop me like this. I’m a sacrifice.

Emily gives him a look.

“The world asked,” Sid says. He’s pleading. “I put on the hat and I heard it. It said that there had to be someone to suffer for it or nothing would make sense.”

And he is saying: don’t go. Please go. Don’t go. Tell me I don’t have to do this. Please don’t tell me, please don’t, don’t tell me I didn’t have to do this.

All the confidence is gone from him in the face of those golden eyes.

“What would it even mean if this wasn’t right?” Sid says. “You’re spoiling it. It was probably going to happen tonight. It was probably going to tip over the edge and make everything better, tonight. I bet.”

He curls in on himself.

“Please go away.”

And this is a night of many paths.

It might have been here, in a different timeline — a different conversation, a different path, or most likely just Sid alone — that he would have thought to experiment with asphyxiation, and gone a bit too far and died.

It might have been here — all the same rules applying — that Emily would have broken the Simon-says-playing robot’s steel mind. She might have been making a point to Sid — in a different conversation, a different path, a different story — that pure motivations and pure outcomes are unrelated, and offered something like “Simon says not to do the things that Simon’s saying.”

On this particular track, though, those things don’t happen. The Keepers’ House showed up to stop him. The robot is hit by lightning, and it dies. There are no fish heads in this timeline, no asphyxiation, and no perverted, awful games of Simon says.


“Go away,” Sid howls, and he glares at them, and it’s too much; he cannot lay his eyes on them, they are dispersing, they are slipping away like ghosts, they leave him in his misery, along with his blood and his mucous hat and his spiders and the quivering clear jelly that is his eyes.

“It was so awful,” Emily tells Navvy Jim, later, and he strokes her shoulder, while Eldri arranges for his ruined robot to be hauled back from the Lethal halls.



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