There is something in a boot that loves to stomp.
In Fimbulwinter a boot will stomp Fenris Wolf. In 2012, if one believes the standard interpretation of Nostradamus, a boot will stomp the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth. Pompeii, of course, died to the fiery stomping of the gods.
There is something in a boot that loves to stomp.
And Peter is stomping right now.
Peter throws open Andrea’s door. The door is opposite the window in the dormitory hall. Peter cries, “Andrea! Look! I have new boots! I’m stomping in them!”
Andrea is, unusually, dead.
“They’re like the one that will stomp this school,” says Peter, “only smaller!”
Then the smell hits. Then Peter’s eyes adjust to the darkness in Andrea’s room. Then he sees what’s left of Andrea, and the beast in Edmund’s form.
“Bloody Hell,” says Peter, setting aside thoughts of stomping for the nonce. Instead he thinks about survival.
The beast in Edmund’s form slinks closer.
“Now I will kill you too,” apologizes the Edmund-beast. “But I do not want to.”
It is slavering. Its eyes are dead white. Its green hat is tilted jauntily to one side.
“You’ve still got bits of Andrea on your mouth!” Peter protests, his pupils shrunk to points.
The Edmund-beast wipes its mouth unsavorily. “I intend to kill you. I will enjoy killing you. I just don’t conventionally want to. It’s an alien drive.”
Peter watches Edmund warily, backing away as Edmund edges forward.
“I don’t want to kill you either,” Peter says. “But I have a . . .”
Peter pats his pockets. Inspiration and fortune strike as one.
“A Lethal razor!”
He holds it up. It is small. It is made from blue plastic. Its blades could in fact cut someone if they were removed from their housing. Small imprinted letters on its handle read, Lethal.
“It is the strangest sensation,” says the Edmund-beast. “Ever since I was sorted into the House of Hunger, it’s as if the rest of you are food. I say to myself, ‘But these are my friends!’ And yet I know the answer. Friendship gives you flavor.”
The Edmund-beast leaps.
Peter flails ineffectually with the Lethal razor. It shaves a few hairs off of Edmund’s arm using its patented Surface Scrub technology. Then Peter tumbles backwards and, quite by accident, autodefenestrates. The screen tears off under his weight and he falls into the yard below.
The yard is green and blue. The grass is damp. There is a fountain in the middle of it, white in the darkness, with a Lethal cherub perched in its marble center. The sidewalk is clean but poorly maintained and there are startled ladybugs in the air.
Cheryl and Vladimir are the only students in the yard. They are wearing Lethal black turtlenecks and black hats, in addition to their generic pants. They were walking by with affected nonchalance when Peter fell out the window. Now they are ineffectually experiencing startlement. They look down at the fallen Peter. They look up at the window. They look down again.
High above, the Edmund-beast howls.
“Take him,” says Cheryl. “Take him quickly!”
They take Peter by each arm and drag him away.
The Edmund-beast makes for the stairs; and that incident marks the last of Peter’s stomping for a time.
House of Saints
Peter wakes up in the graveyard of the hats. This is where British people go when they want to throw down their hats. It is a common destination for police officers during car chases but is also handy for members of all political affiliations during an election and for both managers and laborers during strikes. The hats here are a tattered expanse of felt, covered by mud and clinging grass. They are mushy to the touch and, taken all together, seem somewhat sinister.
“Hats,” mumbles Peter.
“Indeed,” says Cheryl.
Vladimir holds up a hat. “This is mine,” he says. “It is my work. It is my dream.”
The hat is a crowning hat. It is a terrible glory hat. It is made from bits and pieces of graveyard hats, stitched together by a levicular surgeon of uncommon skill and animated by the power of a storm.
It is not such a hat as frail men should make. It is a jaunty badge of Vladimir’s madness. It is a warrantless trespass into the domain of God.
“This hat will help you,” says Vladimir. “If you will try it on. It will … categorize you. Then you will have the strength to fight such creatures as your howling friend. Or perhaps you will join them.”
“It’s for the best,” Cheryl says. She puts her hand on Peter’s. “Edmund won’t let up until he kills and eats you, Peter. You need to be sorted to get the power to fight him.”
“. . . okay,” says Peter, who has no idea what is going on but figures that it’s best to cooperate with the crazy people and their hats.
Vladimir lowers the hat onto Peter’s head.
There is a hissing in Peter’s mind. There is a whiteness that drowns thought and feeling. There is a distant, quavering vision. Then Peter understands.
“I must wear red!” Peter says.
Vladimir backs away. The crowning hat is still in his hands. He looks uneasily at Cheryl.
Peter digs in the graveyard. He finds a tattered zombie of a hat and puts it on. It is red. Then Peter relaxes.
A moment passes.
Peter frowns. “I’m not going to eat you, am I?”
He checks his mouth for slaver.
“No,” says Cheryl. “It is unlikely.”
Her voice is bitter.
“But you are useless to us,” she says.
Cheryl and Vladimir turn away from Peter. They walk off towards the school.
Peter stares after them. “What?” he says. “Why?”
“We had hoped,” Cheryl says, “that you would join us in the House of Dreams. But it is not so.”
Frogs sing amidst the graveyard of the hats.
“House?” Peter asks.
But in his bones he knows.
Cheryl and Vladimir do not answer. They just finish walking away. They are gone, leaving Peter blinking and alone.
The Edmund-beast limps up. Its breath has a sound like dull static. Its eyes have turned to black.
“I wrote a song about you,” says the Edmund-beast. “It goes like this:
La la la la la I love you Peter,
la la la la la I’ll eat you Peter,
la la la la la you’re meat to me,
can’t you see?
I love you like good coffee.”
“I’m touched,” Peter says.
“It’s because we used to drink coffee together,” says the Edmund-beast, advancing.
“Edmund!” says Peter, sharply. “Stop!”
The Edmund-beast hesitates. It is not far from Peter. There is a sinister gleam in its eyes.
“And what House are you, Peter, with your red, red hat? Are you a danger to me now?”
“No,” says Peter. The admission forces itself out past his terror.
The Edmund-beast scowls. It is hesitant.
“I am given,” says Peter, “unto the House of Saints.”
The Edmund-beast tilts its head to one side. It pads forward slightly. It taps at the ground. Peter sucks in his breath. He starts to speak.
“Sinkhole, is it?” says the Edmund-beast. “Hats so rotten that they’ve made a quickhat?”
Edmund hesitates. He furrows his brow.
“A hatsand?” he says, searching for the word. “A haberbog?”
Edmund is failing to find the right word because there is no standard English word for a morass formed by hypersaturated hats.
Peter’s lips are tight.
“I know the red hats,” says the Edmund-beast. “I know them in my bones. You wouldn’t lead me astray, would you? You’d warn me of the sinkhole when I come to kill you. You’d give me good advice even though I want to crunch your bones.”
“Yes,” Peter agrees.
“Then tell me,” says the Edmund-beast. “Ought I kill you now, or later?”
There is a strange instinct in Peter now. It burns in him like a guiding flame.
“Later,” Peter says. “It will serve you better, later.”
So the Edmund-beast turns and it scurries away; and Peter sags, overwhelmed and fearful, amidst the graveyard of the hats.
Fun Fact! Every year, more than 3,000 hats are thrown down in hat graveyards across the U.K. Fewer than 1,000 are ever recovered.
House of Saints will return on Tuesday or Wednesday with “A Motley Collection of Rogues”