Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 2 –

– 2 –

Edmund stops by Linus’ room. Linus is rocking back and forth on his bed, staring at a mural of a fireplace — with a burnt-down fire — scrawled at the other end.

Edmund looks him up and down. He sighs.

“Come on,” Edmund says. “Let’s get a drink.”

Linus looks up.

He smiles at Edmund. Then his smile fades. Then he smiles again. He stands up, creakily. He hasn’t left his room in a little while. He rubs his nose. He washes his hair with a puff of antichrist magic. It doesn’t make him smell better, but it does make him smell less unwashed.

Then he gets his coat.

Neither of them bother mentioning that the other looks practically the worst they’ve ever seen them. It’s not because they’re awkward talking about stuff like that, although they are. It’s just —

They don’t want to face the idea that other people are hurting as badly as themselves, and they don’t want to deny it either, not in dear friends.

So they just walk, in their pale hats.

After a while they start stealthing, instead, moving like shadows in the night. They reach the bar. They stand hidden, lurking, opposite the doorway of the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth school bar.

“How do you want to play this?” Linus asks.

“I don’t want to be carded,” says Edmund. “I don’t want to go to any trouble. I just want to sit with you and have a drink.”

“Right,” says Linus.

His white dog appears. It flows off around the corner. They follow it. They walk forbidden paths. They are cold paths. They lead through icy lands. The two of them emerge at a table where two drinks and a bottle are already set.

The white dog pants.

The glasses clink, and it is gone.

“To enemies,” says Linus.

Edmund looks at him. He shakes his head. “To friends.”

“Aw,” says Linus.

They sit there for a while. They drink. Edmund finally says, “I ate a guy. And . . . some other guys. And some corpses.”

“Ha,” says Linus.


“I hear you,” Linus says.

He looks at his reflection in his booze. I don’t know what kind it is. I’m not really very good with alcohol. It’s some kind of amber-colored Lethal Magnet booze that they should absolutely under no circumstances ever sell to the children, but are nevertheless obligated to stock.

“Have you —”

Have you ever slipped up, Linus? And killed and eaten someone?

Linus shakes his head.


“I always see Tom,” he says. “Like, he’s grabbing me, and he’s shaking me, and he’s saying, ‘You never. You don’t ever, you little snot.’”

“Oh,” says Edmund.

“So I don’t eat them. Because I don’t have to. Only,” says Linus, who will become Mr. Enemy, “eventually, I suppose I will. Or the Devil’ll get me. Or I’ll do my own bad things. That has to happen, you know, because we’re living in a world.”

“Yeah,” says Edmund.

“I shouldn’t have left,” Linus says.


“I shouldn’t have left. I should have found him. I should have fought him then.”

“. . . the cleaning man?”


“Tom was dying, man.”

“I should have stayed, and found him, and we could have fought.”

“Tom was dying.”

“I could have —”

“He’d swiffed the ophidian DNA off of Tom’s genome, Linus,” Edmund says. “He was dying.”

“I get it!” Linus says.

They’re quiet for a bit.

“You’re not strong enough,” says Edmund, “anyway. You’re just Linus. You need to, you know, grow up and stuff.”

“I got a B- in Hand Weapons,” says Linus. “That’s passing.”

“Well,” says Edmund. “You weren’t strong enough, anyway. You’d have just wound up in some kind of institution for antichrists.”

“I know,” says Linus.

They’re quiet for a while. Edmund gives him an apologetic look. Linus swirls his drink.

“That place is fucking lonely,” he says.

“I heard that Ce—” Edmund starts, about to refer to the rumor about antichrist Cecilia, but;

“You heard wrong,” says Linus. “She’s not the antichrist. She’s just rich and kind of spoiled. They had to let her go.”


“Heh,” says Linus. “And you?”

“I’m going to break Fenris out,” says Edmund. “I’m going to break him out. And then, I’m going to throw myself down in front of him. And he’s going to eat me. And he’ll eat me, and it’ll all be just and fair and good.”

Linus closes his eyes.

He inhales. He exhales.

“Is that how it works?” he says.

“It’s what’s going to happen,” says Edmund.

He swallows.

Then he looks at Linus. “What would you do,” he says, softly, “if I could free you?”


“The House of Hunger,” says Edmund. “The white hat. If you could just be Linus again. If I could eat the hat out of you. If I could eat the pale white and leave you as you were before.”


“I’m learning how,” says Edmund. “I can do it. I can rip it out of you. I can free you. From me. I don’t want you hatted into my story, Linus. You don’t have to be part of this. You can just be . . . Linus.”

“Until the Devil rips out my heart and soul and lives in my body,” Linus points out.

“That might not ever happen,” says Edmund. “I mean, what if it never actually happens? Or what if it’s not for a while?

Linus’ dog appears. It pants.

It drops a grenade into Linus’ hand. Linus pulls the pin. Linus swallows the hand grenade.

A waitress blinks and the dog disappears.

“You can live your life,” says Edmund, who is not paying that much attention. “An ordinary life, you know? Until it happens. A real life, until it happens. I want that. I want — I don’t want to take you down with me into the pale dark.”

Linus considers.

“What would I do,” he asks, “if you could do that? You asked?”


“I’d fill a grenade with holy water,” Linus says. “And then I’d swallow it.”


Edmund retroactively parses recent visual information. Linus’ hand is blistered. Oh God, thinks Edmund, the bomb —

“I figure,” says Linus, “if I lose the wolf-hunger; the wolf-throat and the wolf-gut — then it’ll go off. And it’ll kill me. Makes sense, right? If you unwind me from you, rip off my hat, and exile me from the House of Hunger.”

“That’s —”

“And then I can be free of you,” Linus says, “And cut out from your story, and also, dead.”

Edmund stares at him.

“You can kick out Bernard,” says Linus casually. “You can kick out Lucy. You can kick out all of them, Edmund. But not me.”

“But you — but we —”

Edmund stares at Linus.

“What am I feeling?” he asks Linus, helplessly. “I can’t tell. My heart is wrapped in stone.”

“Heh,” says Linus.

He leans back. He stares at the ceiling.

“From the moment I put the hat on,” Linus says, “I knew you’d been right. From the beginning, that you’d been right. They shouldn’t have pent up that wolf like that. That was bad. What the svart-elves did to that wolf of yours, they’re bad.”

“He’s a world-eating wolf,” Edmund says, reflexively taking the role of Devil’s advocate.

“I dunno,” Linus agrees.

He shrugs.

“I’ve been a lot of things,” Linus says. “You know? But I’m really only one thing now. I am just your friend.”

“Are you?”

“And the cleaning man’s enemy,” concedes Linus. “I’m your friend and I’m his enemy.”

“His enemy.”

“And Tom’s brother,” says Linus, who will be Mr. Enemy someday. “And maybe the antichrist. I think I might still be the antichrist. I’m trying to still be the antichrist. It’s so goddamn hard.”

“That’s four things,” says Edmund.

“And Jane’s friend,” says Linus. “Whatever happened to her?”

“Five things,” says Edmund.

“Five hypostases,” concedes Linus, “but only one genus of ousia.”

“I have no idea what you just said,” says Edmund.

“Get drunker,” the antichrist suggests.



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