Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 5 –

– 5 –

Cheryl’s House drives her to distraction, of course. They are . . . not sensible people. But even so —

The camaraderie in the House of Dreams is the best thing that Cheryl has ever known.

When Amber’s experiments started changing her — when you couldn’t touch Amber, not any longer, without being flung about at right angles to your initial approach — it could have been sad and frightful, but instead Cheryl and Amber had gotten into a vigorous, all-night discussion of life, death, and angular momentum. They’d come up with more ideas for the boot in that shared brainstorm than either had come up with in at least three weeks on their own.

When Tom’s reanimated deer-owl — his first attempt at bringing something “back” to life that hadn’t died as just one thing to begin with — tore loose and hunted the House of Dreams through their own secured installation, instead of everyone panicking, it became almost like a game . . .

She wakes up one morning, crying over the hurt of the paper serpent, and she suddenly realizes it. It suddenly hammers down on her, like a boot falling from space.

It isn’t just her. Not just her and guns and nukes off of Little Ganilly.

Tom’s hat has refined her into one thing, unique and apart from every other, but —

She isn’t alone.

“I think,” she says, and they’re all gathered there, all they of the House of Dreams, “that I am wound into it. That I’m part of it, that it’s of me.”

“Ouch,” says Amber.

“I think I am myself,” she says, “my own worst enemy.”

“Point of order,” interrupts Tom, who has never actually read Robert’s Rules of Order. “Won’t the term ‘worst enemy’ become utterly useless if we can apply it even to ourselves?”


“E.g.,” says Tom. “Take a dog.”

Harold provides a dog. Tom blinks. The dog doesn’t vanish.

“That’s really disturbing, Harold,” Tom says.

Harold puts the dog away.

“What I mean is,” Tom says, recovering his equilibrium. “Take a dog conceptually. What is that dog’s worst enemy?”

“A cat?” Harold wonders, providing a cat.

“No!” says Tom, waving away the cat. “That very dog!”

“This is diverging from the core point of my presentation,” Cheryl says.

“No,” says Amber. “I get it! He’s totally right. Like, the dog can chase its own tail. But can it ever catch its own tail? It can’t! That’s not true for any other dog.”

“But if you shoot the dog,” Cheryl says, “because it has rabies —”

Everyone is looking at her.

She flails a hand.

Spoilers,” sniffs Harold.

“I didn’t,” says Cheryl. “What. I didn’t even say I was talking about a particular movie.”

“Now I probably won’t even watch The Sixth Sense,” observes Tom, because the camaraderie in the House of Dreams is also the worst thing Cheryl has ever known.

“You can’t really watch the Sixth Sense,” Harold says. “You can only intuit it.”

“In space!” says Amber.

“I don’t think,” says Tom, verging with an awful suddenness back onto a previous conversational thread, “that the gun counts as the dog’s worst enemy, no. Or even the rabies. If the gun had the rabies, it wouldn’t be the dog’s worst nightmare but rather its salvation; ergo.”

“I see,” says Amber. “So what you’re thinking is, we should reserve the term ‘worst enemy’ for ‘worst enemy that is not actually yourself!’”

“Exactly,” says Tom. “Like, my worst enemy: my malfunctioning toaster! Otherwise, it would almost certainly be Tom. And yours, Amber, and Cheryl’s Cheryl, and so forth.”

“Still Keith,” Harold says.

Keith high-fives him. They’re enemy-bros.

“. . . fine,” says Cheryl. “I will use the terminology ‘In some fashion, my own efforts to destroy the paper serpent are simultaneously folding it into being. It is Ouroboros: its ending is its beginning, and I am trapped in the middle, between.’”

She sighs. She rests her head momentarily on the table.

“Hm,” says Tom.

“Hm?” Her head comes up.

“Then let us kill it!”

Cheryl is staring at him in shock. Tom is blushing. He stammers. He looks away.

“I mean,” he says, “let us help. Help. Not, not do it. Just, help.”

“It’s my enemy,” says Cheryl, hugging herself possessively. “I was just going to ask you for advice.”

“That’s my advice!” says Tom, recovering his savoir-faire. “Let us help you! I can even,” he says, brushing down his pants leg, “press the final button myself.”

She looks at him like he’s eating Christmas.

But he —

But they — They’re all so hopeful. Their eyes are shining. They’re like puppies, she thinks. Like puppies who don’t know what they shouldn’t be doing. Who don’t know eating Christmas is bad.

Finally, with a slow, grave reluctance, she nods. She gives in.

For the sake of the paper serpent.

“Fine,” she says.

She’ll allow her friends to ‘help.’



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