Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 10 –

– 10 –

Mr. Enemy is flopped back on his jail bunk. His hands are folded behind his head. He’s laughing.

“Mr. Evans,” says Special Agent Melanie Cook.

His laugh cuts short. Mr. Enemy sits up. His motion is smooth and even and he doesn’t hit his head on the bunk above him.

“I’m not Mr. Evans,” says Mr. Enemy. “Though I used to be.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s not important what your enemy’s name is,” says Mr. Enemy. “It’s not important what he does for a living. It’s not important who he is, really. What’s important is that he’s your enemy. Jeremiah Clean scrubbed me clean. He scrubbed everything unimportant away. All the Linus. All the Friedman. All the Evans. So now I’m just Mr. Enemy. His enemy. If you know what I mean.”

Melanie looks at her notes. “You’re in jail for 1,427 counts of aggravated littering,” she says.

“90% of all crimes go unsolved,” says Mr. Enemy. “It should be 14,270 counts. But an adversarial legal system refuses me my due.”

Melanie frowns at her notes. “How do you aggravate littering, anyway?”

“It’s my special talent,” says Mr. Enemy. “Observe.”

He takes a cigarette butt out from under his pillow. He flicks it onto the ground in front of Melanie. The burnt end flares and begins to emit seventh-hand smoke—sixty-four times deadlier than second-hand smoke! Melanie quickly stomps it out.

“I’m not afraid of getting lung cancer,” she says, boldly.

He looks at her.

She looks away.

I’m afraid of you getting lung cancer,” says Mr. Enemy, after a moment. “I’m not your enemy. But I have to be as messy as possible or I can’t count it as a blow against Jeremiah Clean.”

Mr. Enemy pulls half a sandwich out from under his pillow. It’s covered in greasy saran wrap. It’s a peanut butter sandwich, so it’s not clear where the grease came from. He bites deep.

“What do you need me for?”

“What does it mean to you,” Melanie asks, “that you’re Jeremiah Clean’s enemy?”

Mr. Enemy gestures with the sandwich. Now there’s peanut butter on the cell wall. It’s a horribly artistic Rorschach smear.

“There’s an obstacle in everyone’s path,” Mr. Enemy says. “There’s a stumbling block. Someone or something who gets in the way. Someone who is the antithesis of what you believe in. Someone who means, just ’cause they exist, that you can’t have what you want. That’s what it means to be an enemy. That’s what it means to be bad, you know, in someone else’s world.”

“Not everything has an enemy,” Melanie says.

“If we didn’t have enemies,” says Mr. Enemy, “we’d be as gods. Look.”

He holds up the saran-wrapped sandwich.

“Thon-Gul X is the warlord of a distant star. He is the incarnate body of the wicked god of space, and he wants to destroy the world. He would do it, too. He’d destroy everything, if he had to, just to get at us. He would make himself into the warlord, the beginning and the ending, wrapped around space and time. But —

“There is saran wrap.

“It clings between Thon-Gul X and his plans. If he could destroy it, then he would be unlimited. But he cannot, because — well, ultimately, because saran wrap is another aspect of himself.”

“It was invented on Earth.”

“‘If only it did not thus cling!’” Mr. Enemy quotes in satisfaction. “But it is clinging. Thus is the lament of Thon-Gul X.”

“I find your evidence uncompelling.”

“Name me something else, then,” says Mr. Enemy. “I’ll tell you its enemy.”




“Pickles cannot triumph while cucumbers exist. Yet without cucumbers, there would be no pickles.”

Mr. Enemy finishes his sandwich. He tucks the saran wrap in his pocket.


“The insufficiency of reason.”

“My childhood imaginary friend Betty.”

Mr. Enemy laughs.


“You’re expecting me to say ‘adulthood,’” he says. “But it’s not true. It could only have been the turtle-people.”

Melanie fights to keep sudden tears from her eyes. She can still remember Betty’s pleading eyes as the turtle-people tied her to the stake.

Mr. Enemy is staring at her. Then he looks down. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I hadn’t really —”

He trails off.

Melanie shakes her head to clear it.

“So why are you his enemy?” Melanie asks.

“Because I understand what he does not,” says Mr. Enemy. “I realize that there is no finality in cleanliness save the empty void. I understand that clean and simple order is the enemy of the small things, that it has no room for small things, and that, in the end, we are all of us small. That is why I must oppose him.”

“By keeping half-eaten sandwiches under your pillow?”

Mr. Enemy shrugs. “The philosophy of disorder has its own philosophical flaws which we need not explore at this time. Since, you know.”

“It’s gross.”

“Agent Cook,” says Mr. Enemy, “Life is gross.”

Melanie sighs. Then she opens his cell. She walks with him through several layers of security, out of the prison, to her car.

“It’s nice to see the sky again,” says Mr. Enemy.

He looks around.

Sometimes he thinks he might be indwelt by the Devil. Other times he thinks a transparent dog is there, panting, looking at him. He can’t see it, so he doesn’t know whether he blinks and it isn’t there.

There’s a lot of things that could be wrong with him, really, but it’s a gorgeous day, and that makes it better.

The sky is blue. There are no clouds.

There is no sun.

There is no moon.

There are no stars.

He can see his reflection in it — that’s how shiny and clean the blue sky is!

It looks so goddamn beautiful that he’d almost want to cry.

“We tried to arrest him,” says Melanie, “but he just removed the unsightly federal agents with hot water and scrubbing bubbles.”

“I hope you’re not thinking that I can do better,” says Mr. Enemy. “I’ve never actually won against him, you know. Not even once.”

“But you’re his enemy,” she says.

“We’ll confront him,” says Mr. Enemy. “And he’ll scrub us away, and that’ll be the end of it. I expect he’s already used Hell-B-Gone on whatever would have happened next.”

“I guess it’s just hopeless, then,” she says.

She gets in the car. They begin to drive.

Mr. Enemy looks around perkily for things to litter with. He finds a bagged and tagged corpse in the back seat, leftover from a deprioritized murder case, and heaves it out the window. It thumps and rolls down the road.

“If everybody did that,” Melanie says critically, “the roads would be trashheaps.”

“Enh,” says Mr. Enemy.

“So why are you willing to fight him,” Melanie says, “if he’s just going to mop us up?”

“Why are you?”

She shrugs.

“I’m really more of the principle that he has an enemy than an actual enemy,” Mr. Enemy admits. He finds a Styrofoam cup and tosses it out the window. It hits the ground behind them and explodes into a steaming pile of goop. “So that’s why. He left me alive, but I’ve been pretty awfully messy. I think this time, he’ll wipe me completely away.”

“You want to die?”

“I figure, if he removes that principle,” says Mr. Enemy, “then he’ll have no way to externalize conflict. Since the division between cleanliness and untidiness is itself an untidy thing, I think that might doom him — that he might become Mr. Enemy. That’s pretty much all I got, as a plan.”

“If he becomes Mr. Enemy, won’t that mean that you become him?”

Mr. Enemy spits his gum out the window. It gums together a spotted owl and a bald eagle, causing both to lose their aerodynamic qualities and plummet screaming to the ground.

“. . . don’t make me turn the car around,” says Melanie.

“Yeah,” Mr. Enemy says. “It means I become him.”

“You’re willing to become everything you loathe and oppose just to make him unhappy?”

Mr. Enemy looks away for a long moment.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I think I honestly am. I’m very good at being Mr. Enemy, Agent Cook.”

She sighs. “I hate working with martyrs.”

“I’m not a martyr,” Mr. Enemy says. He tosses his saran wrap out the window. It flutters in the wind and sticks to a tree. “I’m an aggravated litterer.”

“He mopped away the messy distinction between quantum mechanics and general relativity, you know.”

“I’m not surprised,” says Mr. Enemy.

And they’re driving on.



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