It is very hard to sort people.
There are many common mistakes that are made.
For example, when Vladimir’s magic hat sorted people into the House of Hunger, it made them into beasts that yearn insatiably for human flesh. That’s why the Edmund-beast plans on eating Peter later. That’s why the Lucy-beast (no relation) is attacking Peter now. People are getting eaten all over the school by their former classmates and friends.
This is considered bad sorting as defined by the Standards Institute of the London Sorting Association (LSASI).
There’s also the whole kerfluffle involving the House of Dreams, which has a significantly increased incidence of brooding gothic insanity compared to the general population. Section 13 of the Sorting Code clearly specifies that a proper sorting must not cause madness.
There are other sorting mistakes, though, which can be made by the laity as well as by hats. For example, many people assume that the students at the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth are dangerous. In fact, this represents an error in processing capitalization—they are Lethal students, as branded by the Lethal corporation, but they are not invariably fatal. Many of them, such as Peter, Bethany, and Saul, are in fact saints.
Once your humble narrator accidentally sorted thirty-five thousand people into the dustbin of history before finding out that people still live in Rome. That was really pretty embarrassing, and we’re all glad it’s sorted out now.
The Lucy-beast attacks!
House of Saints
But Peter is watched over, at this if not all times, by a creature that is much less than an angel.
Swifter than the wind, the Edmund-beast is there.
The beast’s nostrils are flared wide and it has grasped the entire situation by smell. “Mine,” it snarls.
Lucy glances back; her eyes show just enough weakness and humanity.
The Edmund-beast tackles Lucy hard.
The rival beasts roll down the hall, hissing, biting, and scratching. The noise is terrible, and it shakes the school. Students in yellow hats are standing on every balcony above them, watching. There is blood that sprays and horrid gagging noises. But struggles within Hunger’s House do not last long. The two break apart. The Edmund-beast and the Lucy-beast gauge one another for a moment. Then Lucy walks off, limping, down the hall.
The students in yellow hats drift away.
The Edmund-beast looks back.
Mockingly, it asks Peter, “Is it time yet? Is it time to eat you? I won’t let anyone else have you, Peter, but you must tell me when it is time.”
And Peter frowns at him. He has a dim and distant vision of a cold and terrible sea. And he shakes his head.
“It is not yet time.”
The Edmund-beast nods. It lowers its head. It snarls, a loud, proprietary noise. Then it lopes away.
“We need to sort someone,” says Saul.
That’s Bethany. She’s been chewing gum and fretting. Now she’s also asking Saul, “What?”
“We need to find someone who’s as concerned as we are about all this business and sort them,” says Saul. “Get them to wear the sorting hat and think unsaintly thoughts. So that they can tell us what it’s like in Hunger. Or in Dreams. Or the yellows.”
None of them knows which House the people in the yellow hats are in. Sometimes Peter suspects they are actually a gang and not actually related to the whole sorting business at all.
“A volunteer, of course?” Peter asks.
“Naturally,” says Saul.
“And how do we get the hat?”
“We find Vladimir, and we ask him.”
Bethany sighs. She shakes her head.
“We can’t ask to sort someone,” says Bethany. “It’s too intrusive. People should be sorted by their hearts, not their hats!”
“Then they’d die,” says Peter, who has momentarily misplaced his facility with abstract thought. “Their heart would bleed all over their head and they would not have oxygen for their brain. Also, it wouldn’t be fashionable at all.”
Bethany holds up a finger, pauses, then shakes her head.
“Me,” says Saul. “I’ll go in for a second sorting. And I’ll think hungry thoughts.”
“. . . I suppose I can’t stop you from risking yourself,” Bethany agrees.
“Won’t you automatically sort out as a saint again?” Peter asks.
“Perhaps I fell into the margin of error on the first occasion,” says Saul. “I do not feel entirely confident as a saint, what with my drug habit and my Lethal rock and roll.”
“Hm,” Peter agrees.
Cheryl walks past. She performs an act of drive-by advising: “Whatever you’re discussing is a really bad idea.”
“Hey, wait!” says Peter.
Cheryl is already more than halfway down the hall. She turns. “What?”
“Where does Vladimir live?” Peter says.
“Miller Hall, 220a,” says Cheryl. Then she is gone.
Vladimir’s dorm room is in darkness. He has hung heavy black drapes. He is attended by a creature that does not look entirely human. It wears a gray and lumpy sombrero. It has great gloomy eyes.
“Yes?” Vladimir snaps, turning as they enter.
“Please, sir,” says Saul. “Can we borrow your hat?”
Vladimir narrows his eyes.
“If you had not wished to be a saint,” he says, “you ought not have been sorted as one. Consider this my after-the-fact advice. It is the House of Dreams that controls the power of the hat; you must settle for the fact that even your dander is a holy relic.”
Saul looks suddenly ill, realizing just how much holiness he is washing down the shower drain every day.
“I can’t imagine,” says Peter, “that anyone would be as good at sorting Saul into a new house as you would be, though, Vladimir. That’s why we’ve come to you. To blatantly play to your ego in hopes of receiving the scraps of your favor.”
Vladimir’s left lower eyelid twitches. He has always wanted people to blatantly play to his ego in hopes of receiving the scraps of his favor.
“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.”
“I am not laughing,” says Peter.
Vladimir looks decisive.
“I will build a pin,” says Vladimir. “He will wear it. It will mute the power of the hat and allow a resorting that does not transform your friend into either a vegetable or a god.”
“A god would be okay,” Saul proposes.
“But a vegetable?” Vladimir asks.
“Not a vegetable,” Saul says. “I eat them. Carrots, cauliflower, spinach. I do not become them.”
Vladimir lolls his head to one side. “I can protect you from becoming like carrots or spinach. But cauliflower is the very vegetable whose mentation and philosophy you would most emulate. Its thoughts are deep and imperceptible and it tastes of chalk; this would be your doom.”
“Then I accept the pin,” says Saul. “Instead.”
“Come!” he snaps. “We will begin.”
He makes the pin from dead sorority and fraternity pins. He burns the pieces together with a soldering gun. He pins it to Saul’s chest, right through the shirt.
“Ow!” yelps Saul, because the pin is very hot and Saul is not a friend to pain.
“Now,” says Vladimir. “The hat!”
He holds up the crowning hat. His assistant opens its mouth. From its inhuman vocal cords the sound of thunder booms.
As Peter, Saul, and Bethany startle, Vladimir lowers the hat onto Saul’s head.
“This is a really bad idea,” says Peter, suddenly.
“Good,” says Vladimir, mad scientist, hatmaker, head boy of the House of Dreams.
“Good?” Peter asks.
“It is through exhaustive implementation of our most terrible ideas,” Vladimir says, “that we find the good ones that remain.”
Saul’s eyes snap open, dead and white.
Fun Fact! Some people have extra wisdom teeth. But beetles and aquamarines don’t have any at all!
House of Saints will continue on Thursday or Friday with “Vidar’s Boot”