“I am a hatter of some skill,” Vladimir admits. “Did you know that the first crowning hat was mine? It was not as advanced as what we have now. It was not alive. It was not warm in my hands. It did not speak to me at night. But it was mine. I made it from the gravesoil of long-abandoned hats. It was soft and mushy and everyone laughed at me when I wore it on my head but it opened the path that led me to the House of Dreams. Now who is laughing? I am head boy and my enemies have been eaten.”
— from House of Saints: Vladimir’s Dreams
Vladimir is not there one day when they are eating lunch, and the discussion comes around to the purpose of the House of Dreams.
“I have dreamed of a storm,” says Amber.
“I too,” says Cheryl.
“I felt . . . like I was part of it. Like I was . . . a lightning rod. A channel for it.”
Cheryl picks listlessly at her cafeteria meat loaf. It does not inspire her. Its flavor is surprising, but not surprising enough.
One day, Cheryl thinks, she will show the kitchen staff. She’ll show them all.
“And my left forearm is strange now,” says Amber. “Ever since the dreams.”
She taps her arm. Cheryl’s ears hear the thump of flesh on flesh, but in her mind Cheryl hears a ringing like metal.
“Wow,” says Cheryl. “Is it conductive?”
Amber beams a little bit. Enthusiasm runs between them like a current.
“Let’s go run tests!” Amber says.
For science and madness are the joys of their House.
House of Saints
Saturday Morning Special
The House of Dreams has commandeered a lounge in Miller Hall. There they work on the great boot they intend to build in space.
“Put on Voltron,” says Cheryl.
So they play that in the background, for inspiration.
“I do not like boots,” says Vladimir. “This project—it feels like a waste of my talents. And I dream unsettled dreams.”
Cheryl looks at him.
“In them, I am like a lump of metal,” says Vladimir. “Where is the lightning in me? I am only a lump—some cobbler’s tool, no doubt, heavy and dumb. That is what we become by cobblery. I do not like boots, Cheryl.”
Cheryl is still looking at him. She is shaking her head slowly.
“What?” Vladimir asks.
“It’s a boot,” says Cheryl, “in space.”
In the background, the robot lions charge together. They form a giant robot. This is the glorious stock footage that is Voltron.
Vladimir rubs at his chin. There is the sparkling pressure in his mind again. He can feel the power of the House building in him. “We should add lasers,” he says. “At least.”
“Now that’s using your dreams,” says Cheryl. “Heat-seeking lasers!”
“And a worldkiller nuke.”
“A space station!” Harold says.
“Dimensional disruption rays!” Amber cheers.
“They laughed at us in engineering class,” says Vladimir. “But now the engineering department is in ruins and we may build as we see fit.”
“Ha,” laughs Cheryl. “Ha ha ha!”
Thunder crashes all around them.
It is another joyous gathering of the House of Dreams.
That night Vladimir dreams unsettled dreams of the wolf. It is looking for him. He can tell. It is sniffing about with its cold wet nose. He wakes with a gasp, his silent assistant shaking his shoulder, and he sobs:
“I have seen the ending of things. It approaches like a storm. Fools are we to think of riding that storm. Fool was I to think of guiding it! We are used as mindless tools by fate.”
His assistant presses a cup of coffee into his hands. It is an ancient remedy for prophecy. Vladimir drinks. Soon the weird has passed. Then his assistant leads Vladimir over to a console. It is beeping and flashing with red lights.
“Hm,” says Vladimir. “I see. So one among the Hungry dares to test the defenses of my room.”
He closes his eyes. He meditates.
“Send out the robot bees,” he says. “Coded to his gene sequence. That will discourage him, and the others of the Hungry, from such foolishness.”
It is an unpleasant beginning to another happy day.
“I don’t like the staged booster design for the unmanned efforts,” says Harold, when they’ve gathered once again.
“Hm,” says Vladimir.
“It’s very vanilla,” concedes Cheryl.
“True,” says Vladimir. He rises dramatically. He crosses out a sheaf of plans with a single motion of his bright red pen. “Then let it be ended! Instead, we shall use a catapult to fling shoe leather into space. Such incredible hang time! Our slogan shall be ‘Be Like Mike.'”
“In what fashion is this like Mike?” Cheryl asks.
After a moment, he waves a hand dismissively and grunts, “Enh.”
He does not actually answer.
“We could use a beanstalk,” counterproposes Cheryl. “We could call it the Shoelace Project. Or . . .”
Her eyes widen.
“Ha,” says Vladimir. “Ha ha ha!”
In this fashion Cheryl’s suggestion carries.
The House of Dreams works fervently into the night. But at some point, the students’ minds slow down and the difficulties of the problem overwhelm them. Soon they are working not from joy but from obsession and frustration, beating their minds against the difficulties of the task. They are like birds fluttering against the glass, or moths against a flame. Then they are too tired to think at all.
When Vladimir staggers into bed it is nearly morning. He falls into his dreams like a broken elevator falls. He tumbles into them like a wounded bird. He is dizzy and vertiginous and there are great shapes all around him. They are dwarves, he thinks, and gods.
He tries to open his mouth to scream, but he cannot.
They toss him into a fiercely-burning forge. They shape and twist him with their hands. They mold him like a lump of metal and his mind is burning with the lightning.
When he wakes his tongue is thick and his mind is spinning and he says, “I see how to do it. I see how to do it.”
The dream cannot disturb him. Not even the ingrown nail on his left foot can disturb him. The lightning is with him now. He sees.
And they work that day in joy.
“I dreamed a few days back,” says Vladimir, seven hours later, “of the ending of all things. I dreamed that we were arrogant. I dreamed that it was not in us to shape the storm.”
Here he laughs.
“Can you imagine? I, I, Vladimir, I doubted. But here we are. Here, we shall do it. We are ready. We shall make this boot and the lace that lifts it.”
But Cheryl is looking at him. What he sees in her eyes he struggles to deny.
“Vladimir,” she says. “We do not guide what is coming. We are shaped by it. We are the lightning of its path. We are the hammer of the storm.”
Voltron plays behind them, on the television screen.
And there is a sudden sick realization tightening Vladimir’s chest as he looks down at the table and now he knows, and he says, “And I’ll—”
It is ridiculous. He does not speak it. It is a thing in his mind alone. He is a man. He will always be a man.
He shakes his head.
On the television behind him, Keith shouts, “And I’ll form—the head!”