Emily had always wanted a jaguar. When she was a young girl, she’d point at them in the zoo and say, “Mommy! Mommy! Jaguar! Jaguar!”
But her mother didn’t understand. She’d just say things like, “That’s right!” and “Yes!” and “It’s time to go home now, Emily.”
Young kids can’t say what’s on their mind. They can think it, but they can’t boil down those thoughts efficiently into a communicable form. That’s why Emily just said “Mommy!” and “Jaguar!” when what she meant was:
“It is very hard to be a person. To live in this world—that’s an exquisite sorrow! What is not tainted with the universal characteristic of suffering?
“But there is also this: the recognition in this moment that I may find beauty within this world. That there is something that makes it worthwhile to be here. That there are jaguars. These are things to take my breath away and lift my spirit and make me glad that I was born, that I will live and breathe and suffer and eventually die. These are a marvel. Oh, mother, oh, mother. Look at them move!”
Then she’d wave her chubby little hands around in frustration because her mother did not understand.
Emily’s admiration of the great yellow beasts never faded.
That’s why she was very excited when she was sorted into the Keepers’ House. The hats of the Keepers’ House are yellow, just like a jaguar’s.
Just like a jaguar’s fur.
The Houses were born of Vladimir’s hubris.
His “sorting hat” reshaped the students of his school into five distinct Houses. It changed their nature. It subjected them to the rules of their House. It committed a crime against their humanity.
Thus Peter, of the House of Saints, interceded for others even unto his death.
And Cheryl, of the House of Dreams, lives with lightning in her mind.
And Sid, of the House of Torment, hurt until he died.
And Saul, of the House of Hunger, has become a beast.
Their story began with House of Saints, here. But there are truths the saints would never know.
Emily graduated in 2008 from the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth, but she keeps tabs on all her classmates. “The Keepers’ House keeps in touch,” as Bertram says.
“Yes, we do!” Emily always replies.
They have a very important duty. They have to keep the world from ending.
“I try to stay enthusiastic,” says Emily. “But it’s hard.”
She doesn’t have to actually say it out loud. They hardly ever do. Most of the people in the Keepers’ House just know what the others want to say. It’s part of the nature of the House.
“It really is,” Fred agrees.
It’s 2012, and they’re standing in a creepy circle around Saul. Saul is a young man now. He’s lean and his eyes are deeply-set. He is meditating in a cross-legged pose. He’s a student of the House of Hunger, and hunger seethes in him like a stormy sea.
His skin has very tiny scales on it, almost too small to see. They are more visible when the hunger is upon him, like the beast in him is prickling up and hardening his flesh.
It’s hard not to sense the creepy circle. It’s people standing around him and they’re staring.
So Saul opens his eyes. He feigns a neutral expression.
“Do you mind?” Saul says.
“Run away!” says Emily. Saul does not hear, but the others do. “Run away!”
The Keepers’ House disperses. Emily always feels very awkward and ungainly when she flees, but Bertram’s reassured her that she is as silent and flowing as the rest of them. So she tries not to feel too embarrassed as she gusts away.
Saul gets to his feet. He tilts his head to one side. Then he swings it to the other. Inside him, he twitches, and the beast takes over.
Gaunt and feral, it begins to stalk Emily.
“Uh oh!” says Emily, as she finds herself facing a wall with the Saul-beast stalking behind her. The beast doesn’t hear. She cuts left to the cargo lift.
The lift, which she had left locked there on the ninth floor, is now on the first.
“Fudge,” silents Emily.
She presses the button. She looks around her.
There’s a window to her left. It’s plexiglass.
Her yellow hat is the brightest thing in the hall.
The building she’s in is the main office of a company called Manifest. It is where Saul works. If it were Emily’s nature to do so, she could shout out, and there is a chance someone would come. They might say, “Saul, please remember that we are already being sued over the last nineteen visitors you have eaten.” Then there would be a chance that the Saul-beast would back down, and there would be a separate chance that it would eat the complainant and acquire another permanent black mark for Saul’s record.
It is not Emily’s nature to shout. So instead she turns. She looks at the Saul-beast.
In a clear and audible voice, she says, “What is it, Saul?”
“I am hungry,” states the Saul-beast.
“I am indigestible,” says Emily. “It is my bad diet. I eat too much salt, fat, and plastic. If only I were a normal girl! I would eat the Pringles, but leave the bag. But I am not, and I must decline to be eaten. With apologies.”
The Saul-beast laughs.
It steps closer.
Emily shrinks back.
“I am always hungry now,” says the Saul-beast. “And I am practicing to become more so. That hunger is my strength. One day I will open my mouth and I will eat the world.”
“Oh,” cries Emily.
It is a soft, pained sound. She looks down.
Then the Saul-beast is on her. It is pushing her back. Its hands are like iron pistons that force her shoulder and side back against the door. Its neck is absurdly long and thin and it arches back. Its canine teeth are longer than they were, once, and there is venom in them.
“That wasn’t fear,” says Saul. “That was sympathy.”
“It wasn’t,” protests Emily. “It was sadness at the way of things. It was a recognition of their ohness.”
“Tell me,” says Saul. “What is your House for?”
“Hm?” Emily says.
“Why do you gather? What prompts your comings and goings? Why do you stand around people in a creepy circle, and then disperse to the winds? For what purpose did the sorting process make you?”
“Oh,” says Emily. “That’s a secret.”
The lift doors open. There is a janitor in them, pushing a wheeled contraption involving a trash can, mops, and cleaning supplies. For just a moment, as Emily drifts back, the geometry of the situation confounds the Saul-beast. She is inside. The janitor is outside. The Saul-beast is outside. The doors close. Emily slumps.
. . . but it won’t be a secret tomorrow! Be sure to read Tuesday’s entry, Standing in the Storm: Their Lives Were Jewels!