This story begins here.
“It’s getting harder,” says Emily.
She’s hanging out in a booth in a coffee shop talking on her cell phone to Bertram. Using the phone is pretty much habit. Since they’re not talking aloud, neither of them has actually bothered to turn their phone on.
“Totally,” says Bertram.
There’s a woman at one of the tables. She looks at Emily. She’s generically irritated that Emily is on the cell phone even though she can’t actually hear anything that Emily is saying. But before the woman can comment Emily looks at her with empty, hollow eyes and mouths the woman’s name. That’s so horrifying that the woman shudders and hurries from the shop.
“It’s Hunger,” says Emily. “The House of Torment is still pretty well-behaved. Dreams is Dreams, and I’m not even sure there are any saints left. But Hunger . . .”
“It’s like they’re encouraging it,” Bertram says.
“They can’t do that, can they?” interjects Fred.
“Fred,” she says, “I am trying to impose the context of a phone call on this conversation.”
“It’s a conference call,” says Fred.
“Oh,” says Emily.
Emily shivers away her confusion.
“I think they are encouraging it,” Emily concludes. “I think they are actively cultivating the hunger within them.”
“But it’ll get out,” says Fred. “We won’t be able to keep it.”
“Yes,” says Emily. “But it’s okay, if we tried? I mean, failure’s okay?”
But before Fred answers, Emily suffers a distraction.
“You are a difficult person to eavesdrop on,” says the Saul-beast.
It should never have happened.
The sorting hat was not the first crack in the armor of the world. Through cracks of just such a kind came Fenris Wolf into the world, and other things. It was not the first and it was not the last.
But it should never have been at all.
At the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth, the only British boarding school that doubles as a secret weapon against giant wolves, the sorting hat came into the world. It changed people—into saints, into mad scientists, into tormented souls, into beasts. It sorted them into new destinies. It perverted them to new forms.
One man was sorted twice. He is the head boy of the House of Beasts. He is its visionary. His name is Saul.
The call is like elevator music, like Barry Manilow ballading on the sitar, like a cheerful twanging distant and strange. It is a ballad heard not with the ears but with the heart.
It is how the Keepers know that Gotterdammerung nears.
Emily looks up.
Bertram is there. Fred is there. Morgan is there. All of the others are there. They have drifted into the scene from unknown places. They are standing in the entrances to the coffee shop, outside the glass wall, against the bar. They are watching events unfold.
“Guys,” silents Emily, in profound relief.
“Yo,” says Fred.
And in the silence the Saul-beast opens its mouth.
“Are you still a saint?” Emily asks him, aloud.
“I’ll tell you what we are,” Emily says, “if you will tell me that.”
Then Saul sits opposite her. He pulls the salt and pepper shakers out and sets them on the table between them. He smiles at her.
“Hello,” he says. “My name is Saul. I was sorted into the House of Hunger, but it was my second sorting. Before that I was a saint. I am the last survivor of the House of the Saints. My brother Edmund ate the others. Who are you?”
Emily looks at him.
“Oh God Oh God Oh God,” she is saying, to the other members of the Keepers’ House, because she is terrified that Saul will eat her. But he cannot hear her. She is silent and gnomic before him.
“Saul,” she says. “You have to understand that what you are doing is not in the best interests of—”
The hunger that surges up in Saul’s eyes is like a physical blow. It silences her and pushes her back against her seat.
“Who are you?” says Saul, companionably, again.
“My name is Emily,” Emily says meekly. “I like jaguars and coffee. I am a Keeper. I contain you so that your hunger does not call the wolf.”
“Good,” says Saul.
He leans back.
“Containment,” Saul says, thoughtfully.
Emily reaches out. She touches his hand. It’s a dangerous thing to do. But she wants to tell him a confidence.
“I don’t want to be eaten by people or wolves,” says Emily. “I want to live a long time and die in a beautiful place, surrounded by something wonderful. It is like the Hunger, only it’s not.”
Saul stares at her for a while. His eyes are distant like a snake’s.
“The purpose of humanity,” says Saul, “is to transform into beasts and devour the world. You are inhibiting this purpose. You must cease.”
“That isn’t so,” says Emily.
Saul looks around.
“Why haven’t I eaten you yet?” the Saul-beast asks. It is genuinely puzzled, because it was sure it would have eaten her already.
“Damn!” swears Bertram silently. “He’s on to us!”
“Run away! Run away!”
“We can’t run,” notes Fred. “He’ll eat Emily! I like Emily.”
“Not that way,” Fred clarifies.
Emily gets to her feet. She stares down at Saul. The others swell around them, containing, keeping, holding back Saul’s hunger.
The beast in Saul can sense it.
He is catching on.
“Saul,” Emily presses, in her last few moments of safety. “You have been corrupted by the sorting hat. Your mind has been altered. You are wrong about the destiny of humanity, and you will destroy your own House.”
“Make your case,” says Saul.
Fred is gone.
Emily looks up sharply. She looks around the shop. Her brain cannot parse what has happened.
Bertram is gone.
There is something warm and wet on Emily’s face.
Morgan is gone. Lisa is gone. Betty and Veronica are gone.
“Go!” says Emily, to the others. Her voice is audible, so shaken is she. “Go now.”
The Keepers’ House disperses, leaving only Emily, Saul, and their dead; and sitting on the floor amidst the blood, chewing happily on Bertram’s arm, is the Edmund-beast.
And there is a burgeoning breath of pain in Emily. And she says, “I—”
“Ah,” says Saul. “I have backup.”
“It’s all right to be frightened,” Saul says. “But you’ll need to make your case.”
Emily isn’t frightened. She is staring at him. She is mouthing a single syllable blankly. But what she means by it is this:
“How dare you take them from me and this world?
“Their lives were jewels: unswerving, dauntless, loving, precious things—And they died before they knew how wonderful they were.”
Doesn’t it suck when that happens?
Anyway, now Emily’s alone with the beasts, and also, the world’s about to end. Check back tomorrow or the next day for Standing in the Storm: Calling to the Wolf!