MJ Gardner
Dark Fiction

Speak of the Devil

Marjorie sat crosslegged, with the bed tray over her lap, drawing with crayons. They wouldn't give her a pencil in here, or any sharp object like that, but she had gotten very good with the crayons. She had a box of forty-eight colors, with a plastic sharpener built into the side of it, and she kept them all arranged in chromatic order. She could have sat at the small table over near the door, but she preferred to sit on the bed. It was more comfortable, and things couldn't sneak up under the skirt of her housecoat. She was safe under the covers; he hadn't yet appeared under there, and she tried not to think about it so that he wouldn't get the idea.

She was drawing her devil. If he had a name, he hadn't told her. She hadn't asked him, and maybe she should. He was a thin, bony creature, with sort of orange colored skin. Not the orange you saw on oranges. It was an orange that looked natural as skin; at least it did not look odd to her. He had a long, narrow face and pointed ears, a little straggly goatee, and very sharp little teeth. He was bald, with a pronounced brow, but no eyebrows. His feet were not like human feet. They had opposable big toes, like a monkey, and his tail was not pointed, as in all the, cartoon devils she had seen, but blunt-ended like a monkey's too. He was about three feet tall, and naked, and his little uncircumcised penis was always half erect, and seemed to be pointing at her accusingly.

Marjorie sharpened her black crayon to draw in some of the details of his beady little eyes and the wrinkles of his face. Then she saw the back of his head appear at the foot of her bed as he crawled from underneath it. That was one of the places he came out of. Sometimes he came from the closet, or the bathroom at night, when it was dark in there. Sometimes she didn't see where he came from, he was just there when she turned around. She did not point him out to people; she had long since stopped doing that. Only she could see and hear him.

He liked to do disruptive things at the most inopportune times, usually when her psychiatrist was in to see her, or one of the orderlies. If she was in the lounge with the other patients he would sometimes appear, but he only reclined in empty seats and threw rude comments into the conversation. Betsy Doyle had claimed she could see him too, when Marjorie had told her about him, but she didn't really believe Betsy. He had danced around in front of her with his tongue out, his thumbs in his ears and his fingers waggling and she had pointed to some spot beyond him. Her description hadn't really been on the mark either. She said his skin was red and it really was unmistakably orange. But then Betsy was prone to illusions, and to lying.

He swung himself up on the foot of the bed by the rail and crouched there.

"What are you drawing?"

"You."

"Me? I'm so honored. Let me see."

He held out his hand for the picture and she held it up for him to see, but close against her body, out of his reach.

"I'm a little near-sighted, if you could let me hold it..."

"No."

"No? Why not?"

"They told me if I could draw you, I would be better able to control you and get rid of you."

He giggled. "You can't get rid of me. What are you going to do, burn it?"

Marjorie liked that idea. She rolled the picture up and kept it in her two hands.

"Marjorie, if you don't give me the picture, I'll bite you. You know if I bite you they'll think you did it to yourself, and sedate you. And while you're drugged up, I'll have fun, won't I?"

"I let you see it. You can't have it."

"Come on, give me the picture, or I'll make you pee the bed."

He had a trick of getting his hand between her legs and making her pee the bed. It was not very serious to her psychiatrist, but the orderlies would make fun of her, and it was extremely embarrassing, an almost grown woman not being able to control herself like that.

"Why do you torment me?" she asked, twisting the paper into a tight little tube.

He stood up, straightened his shoulders back and assumed as much dignity as a naked devil could. "It's my job, my career, my station in life, my calling. It's just what I do."

"But why me?"

"Why you?! You're perfect, my dear. You see there are so many more of you than of us, we're kept busy patrolling whole blocks, knocking children's balls out into the paths of oncoming cars, letting off the hand brakes on baby carriages, tripping people on the ice, smothering babies in cribs. We have to keep invisible, you know, because if you all started to believe in us, then you'd do something about us. But after your nervous breakdown, you were a perfect candidate. No one would believe you. I've been getting a lot of flak from the other devils, not pulling my weight, having so much fun here with you, but I don't care. I've found my niche. I like it here, and I'm going to keep you here."

"If you wanted to go back out into the world, I wouldn't mind, really."

He laughed. "Not a chance."

"You really are ugly."

He stopped laughing and snarled at her, which did nothing good for his face. He went down on all fours, crouching like a great humanoid spider, and clutched at the covers that were pulled up to her waist, catching the waistband of her pajamas too. His skin was cold and leathery, and she didn't like him touching her. She held the covers taut, firmly against her waist, crunching the paper in one hand.

He was going to make her pee the bed, pee her pajamas, and the psychiatrist was coming to see her soon. He put his face up close to hers, and his breath was terrible. She didn't know what he ate, but it smelled like he washed it down with sewer water. Fermented sewer water.

"It's not nice to insult people. You're a bad girl and have to be punished. Now take your medicine like an adult, or I'll do something worse. I'll trash this room. I'll bite you. I'll make you pee yourself when your mother comes to visit. I'll make your mother pee herself!" He collapsed back in a fit of giggles and Marjorie could only stare at the ugly creature writhing on her bed. She wanted to push him off, but she didn't want to touch him, with his rubbery cold skin, and she didn't want to make him more angry than he was. Maybe he would forget his threats when his giggling fit passed. He sat up, still smirking.

"If I don't believe in you, will you go away?"

"No," he answered, drawing his face out long and sour. He plucked a crayon from the box and held it out to her.

"Eat the crayon."

"No." She pushed it away, trying to touch only the crayon and not his hand.

"Eat the crayon," he insisted, getting closer to her on his haunches.

"I'm not hungry."

He carefully peeled the paper from the stick of colored wax and began crunching away on it. His teeth turned magenta. "They're really quite good. You must try it." He held it out to her again and she pulled away, but could go no further back than the headboard of the bed.

There were voices out in the hall. Marjorie looked to the door, and so did the devil. It began to open and she threw back the covers, tumbling him and upsetting her lap tray. Crayons flew. Dr. Wieden came in, with one of the muscular young orderlies, and Marjorie rushed over to her with her crushed picture.

"I did the picture, like you said. I really feel better now. I'd like to burn it," she blurted out in a rush.

Dr. Wieden regarded her strangely for a moment, but only for one moment. After all, she was a trained psychiatrist. She moved to the table and sat down on one side of it. "Do you really think that will help, Marjorie?"

"Oh yes." Marjorie scrambled into the other chair, clutching the paper. From the corner of her eye she saw the devil pop a blue crayon in his mouth. She tried to ignore him.

"Would you get me an ashtray, Bill, and turn off the smoke alarm," the doctor asked the orderly and he went out into the hall.

He ran over and leapt up on the table and crouched on the edge of it. "If you burn that, I'll light this room on fire," insisted the devil angrily. "I'll light the door and the window, so you can't get out!"

"May I see the picture?" asked the doctor. Marjorie handed it to her reluctantly, glancing up once at the devil. She did not think he would snatch it out of the doctor's hand, but she was not sure.

Dr. Wieden unrolled the paper and held it up. She looked surprised. "This is very good. Maybe we could get you a set of paints."

Marjorie giggled nervously.

"If you burn that, I'll get you when they're gone. I'll not just bite you, I'll take chunks out of you. And then they'll have you so sedated for the pain that you won't know what I'm doing." He grinned at her maliciously. She didn't look, and tried to ignore him.

"Thank you, Bill," said Dr. Wieden, taking the heavy glass ashtray from him. She took a lighter from her lab coat pocket and flipped it open. The devil leaned over and blew out the flame. The doctor frowned at the lighter and then flicked it again. He tried to blow it out, but the paper was between him and it. Flames caressed the edge, sending up a thin stream of smoke. The doctor held the paper with the burning end down so that the flames licked it up quicker.

The devil leapt off the table with a terrible howl and Marjorie winced. She could not believe that they couldn't hear him, but she tried to pretend he wasn't there. He danced around the room shrieking and howling, screaming incoherent curses. Marjorie was afraid suddenly that she would have to see and smell him burning, see his orange skin blistering and blackening, but she did not. When he danced into view he was whole and live, beating his body with his hands and twisting like a dervish.

When the paper had almost burned up the doctor dropped it into the ashtray. The shrieks had become more subdued and were only sobs now. Marjorie was tempted to turn, she felt a little pity for him, but she kept her eyes on the ashtray. The last flicker died out and there was silence in the room.

"Is he gone?" Dr. Wieden asked cautiously.

"Oh, yes," answered Marjorie, slumping back in her chair.

"And how do you feel?"

"Relieved," she answered.

"Well, I think that's enough for one day. I'll come back to see you tomorrow and we'll talk more then, okay?"

Marjorie nodded, smiling. Dr. Wieden picked up the ashtray full of black bits of tissue. She handed it to Bill as they went down the hall.

"Isn't that kind of superstitious, letting her burn a picture of the devil?" he asked after Marjorie's door was closed.

"Well, it's the only positive progress we've made so far. And if it helps get rid of her delusions...."

"I suppose." He shook his head and knocked the ashes into the waste basket in the group counselling room as they passed it. Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw something move, but when he looked there was only the circle of horrible orange chairs. He had never liked that color.