People deal with horror in many ways.
Edmund’s father has known for all his life that the wolf would break free in his child’s time. It is the wolf’s stated intention to eat the world.
So he built the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth.
Vladimir dreamt misty visions of the categorization of men. He dreamt of the remaking of the world, where people did not choose their nature but had it assigned to them—visionaries to the House of Dreams, beasts to the House of Hunger, saviors to the House of Saints. He did not retch bitterly into the sink, whenupon he woke, but rather built a tool to realize this ambition.
“The horror of it is its finiteness,” said his roommate, Stefan. “There are finite colors and finite Houses, Vladimir. That is how I know that the judgment of the sorting hat comes from outside. It does not reflect the varied splendors of the soul.”
Then Vladimir sorted Stefan, and now Stefan does not speak.
Edmund faced the horror of his life with flight. He ran from the truth of the wolf, and now he is a beast.
Peter has just helped in the resorting of Saul, who was at that time a saint and now might have joined the Hungry.
Peter is a saint, but he is flawed. He does not look before he leaps.
House of Saints
Saul’s eyes are pure white and some numinous essence in them fills the room with the spiritual effluvium of hunger.
He is smiling.
“Can you fight it, Saul?” Bethany asks. “Can you tell us what . . . can you tell us if you’re still in there?”
Saul says, calmly, “I am unchanged. It is you who are different.”
“I have stepped sideways,” says Saul, “into a world where only the hungry have value. It is transparent to me that this is the nature of the change in question. The consideration of their rights still defines my morality, while your boundaries are newly irrelevant.”
“I cry foul,” says Peter. “This is the same universe as before the sorting. My memories are continuous, even if yours are not.”
“Such allegations are meaningless when made by meat,” dismisses Saul.
He takes off the sorting hat. He hands it to Vladimir. “I shall need green,” he says.
“Of course,” says Vladimir, who uses many dead green hats in his research. Then he hesitates. “Please understand that if you attempt to eat me a nuclear device will detonate and destroy the House of Hunger, as well as the rest of the school.”
Saul grins a corpse-grin at Vladimir.
“You are too useful to eat,” says Saul. “We will wait until you are old and your neural structures have decayed. Then we will ring your doorbell. ‘Who are you?’ you will say, and ‘I don’t want any!’ Then we’ll laugh at the senile old fool you have become and bite off your limbs.”
“You paint an unsettling picture,” says Vladimir. “Still, if I have no indoors machine gun nest to retreat to, it is nobody’s fault but my own.”
“Wisely said,” says Saul.
He turns. He looks full into Peter’s face.
“Do you understand what you must do?” the Saul-beast asks.
“No,” Peter says. He shakes his head.
The Saul-beast draws back its lips. It hisses at him.
“Save. The. World,” it says. It pokes his chest. “You are still a saint; and I have lost my mandate.”
Then it turns. Its nostrils flare. It shuffles out the door.
“Now was that statement his evil?” asks Vladimir, in distant scientific curiosity. “Or his virtue?”
Vladimir’s assistant is silent; and Peter and Bethany depart, shaking their heads in horror.
“It is evident,” says Bethany, as they walk away, and after they regain a bit of mental balance, “that they retain their humanity, however warped.”
“An unfortunate outcome,” Peter says.
“Agreed. It would be better if they were evil to the point of inanimacy, or human to the point of reason. How can we save the world from things we cannot reason with or harm?”
Peter has been thinking about this ever since Saul charged him with the task.
“Proposition,” says Peter. “We must destroy the graveyard of hats, whose fell necromantic power poisons the earth and feeds poor Vladimir’s inspiration.”
“That charnel millinery possesses a certain unholy sentience,” Bethany points out.
“It is what it is,” says Peter. “Dead hats have certain rights, but these are not the same as a human’s rights.”
The clock in the hall slowly ticks.
“Agreed,” Bethany says.
“The natural enemy of the hat is the boot,” Peter says.
“We can’t build a big enough boot on Earth,” Bethany says. “That’s the cobbler’s old enemy, gravity, at work.”
“Space,” Peter says.
It has a strange sense of inevitability for such a unexpected conclusion; and Bethany nods.
“Space,” she says.
It is three days before they make further progress on their plans. Then they find Cheryl, between classes, in the company of her peers.
“We have a request,” says Peter. His voice is humble. His hands are folded together.
Cheryl’s eyes light up. Since Peter has not actually explained his request yet, her response is somewhat uncanny:
“Space?” Cheryl carols.
Peter can see the students in the yellow hats draw nigh. He can feel it, just barely, in the atmosphere—that thing that calls them.
It is an electricity charging up in the the students of the House of Dreams, burning like a flame within their eyes.
“Space?” says Amber, of the House of Dreams.
“Space!” confirms Harold.
“Space!” choruses Cheryl. Then she takes Peter’s hands. She folds them in her own.
“Anything we can do, of course,” says Cheryl. There is an unholy zealotry in her voice. “You are sniveling and pathetic, but to serve such ignorant worms with our inspiration and labor is the joyous burden of the House of Dreams.”
Cheryl has been planning it for days now, though she had not known. There are scraps of diagram and theory scattered through her notes. They made no sense to her then. They make sense now.
“We will call it,” she says, “Vidar’s Boot.”
Fun Fact! If you have unholy zealotry in your voice, you can gargle with salt water to get it out!
House of Saints will continue on Saturday or Monday with “A Practically Unsolvable Problem”