The Little Demon Who Couldn'tby Author / Odelia Floris
The Little Demon Who Couldn't
Copyright ? 2015 Odelia Floris
All rights reserved.
'His eyes were radiant orbs of brilliant sapphire blue, with depths that seemed as though they reached far back into infinity and touched the very first ray of light at the dawn of Creation?'
'SO, Murmur my son, what did you do today?'
'Ahmm?' faltered the little demon, cowering and trembling beneath his father's stern face and glowing red eyes.
'What?' The big demon put his clawed, sinewy fingers to his hips and leaned forward until his hook-nosed, pointy-chined face was level with the little demon's. 'Did you do nothing again?'
'I?I?made a bucket of milk go off and-and caused the mayor to sneeze halfway into his speech?' Murmur hung his horned head in shame and clutched his baby-clawed hands together behind his back.
With his tail twitching and flicking like an angry snake, the big demon snapped upright and began clip-clopping back and forth across the room in a rage. Noise enough for a hundred stampeding goats filled the air. Meanwhile, little Murmur shivered and shook so fearfully that his hairy hocks knocked together. As he stormed up and down, the big demon's short scarlet cloak flew out behind him, and he stroked his black goatee beard manically as smoke and steam spewed from his sharply pointed leathery ears.
Then the big demon suddenly halted before his cowering, cringing son with a screech and a clatter. 'Never, in all my three thousand years, have I been so shamed!' he screamed in his hoarse, bellowing voice.
The little demon's cloven hooves jumped several inches off the floor in sheer terror. 'Yes, O revered father, O greatest, mightiest devil!' he whimpered, bowing and scraping desperately.
'What,' continued his father, stabbing a long, clawed finger at Murmur, 'will the neighbours think, eh?'
'Sorry, O most evil one, so sorry!' squeaked the little demon, feeling like the furiously pointing finger was boring right into him. 'I will try harder to be evil, harder, O vilest one!' he gibbered, bowing and scraping so low his head almost touched the floor.
'You are nearly three hundred years old; it's about time you started acting your age!'
'Yes, vile one, yes,' whimpered the little demon.
'You are a disgrace to your mother and I! After all the trouble we have taken over raising you, and you turn out like this!' Smoke was now pouring from the big demon's nose too. Little Murmur could barely see his own hooves through the thick haze.
The big demon, whose name was Mammon, turned from his son in fury. 'Sometimes your mother and I really do question whether we are bad parents!'
Fidgeting desperately with the end of his tail, the little demon cringed pitifully. 'Pardon, father, pardon-'
But Mammon furiously turned to his son before he could finish. 'You-you-' He threw his long, scrawny hands up as he searched for the right put-down. 'You little angel!'
Murmur whimpered and cowered and cringed beneath this terrible insult. He was so fearful and shaken that he could not speak.
Muttering savagely under his steaming breath, the big demon clattered over to the pitchfork stand near the front door and seized his red-hot pitchfork.
'Oh human!' he swore as he pricked his finger. 'Look what you've made me do, Murmur, you idiot-saint!' screamed the big demon, a tongue of flame spurting from his mouth.
The little demon prostrated himself on the floor. 'Pardon, O hellish one! Sorry, so sorry!' he gibbered, his teeth knocking together violently.
'I don't give a sunlight!' And with that final obscenity ringing in his son's pointy little ears, Mammon disappeared in a puff of smoke. Only the delicious (to demons) stench of sulphur remained where the big demon had been standing a moment before.
When Murmur finally dared to get up again, he heard a sneering chortle. The little demon spun around with a speed that almost took his hooves out from under him. Standing by the hallway coat stand were his two older brothers, Beball and Behemoth.
Behemoth leaned casually against the parlour door as he sharpened the points of his pitchfork. 'Ha! So father caught you, did he?'
'Being evil is a lot of work,' said Murmur, squirming and fidgeting nervously with the end of his tail. 'Sometimes I just can't be bothered.'
Beball, who sat on a bench, looked up from polishing his hooves. 'When are you going to start acting like a real demon, small-ears? Laziness is something we demons inflict those stupid humans with, not something we do ourselves. It's shameful having a demon as thick as you in the family.'
Behemoth put away his sharpening stone, then got out a file and began sharpening his talons. 'What are you loitering about here for anyway, short-nose?'
'Stop calling me mean names!' squeaked Murmur, stomping his little cloven hoof.
Behemoth hardly bothered to glance up from his filing. 'Start behaving like a respectable demon, angel-face.'
Murmur was all for stomping off upstairs in a sulk, but he didn't. Behemoth and Beball were dressed in their best going-out clothes. The red and black silk doublets they wore were in the Elizabethan style; full, puffy sleeves slashed to reveal the contrasting fabric beneath, and worn with matching puffy, slashed breeches and a big white ruff about the neck. Murmur thought his brothers looked very sharp, but he did pause to ponder why the Elizabethan style remained so popular with demons even though it was now 1876. Humans had moved onto frock coats and trousers and cravats. Mind you, human didn't have tails. Tails didn't really work with frock coats.
The little demon wore his most pleading and hopeful look as he stood before his older brothers. 'Let me come out with you. I will be bad, I promise!'
Beball let out a snort of derision. 'You come with us? I don't think so!'
'Right, having an idiot baby brother like you tagging along would make us a laughing stock,' Behemoth added with a sneer. 'And you'd never keep up with us anyway.'
'Yes I would!' squeaked Murmur, looking pitifully up at his big brothers.
He was desperate to be four hundred. Then he would be able to go to senior school with Beball, Behemoth and all the other bigger, smarter, more evil demons. In the meantime, he hoped that by trailing around town with Beball and Behemoth he would get into more mischief. When he went out alone mischief never came his way. If anything, it seemed to run in the opposite direction if it saw him.
Behemoth threaded his horns through the holes in his black velvet cap and cast a superior glance at Murmur. 'Don't talk such purity. An innocent-eyed little imp like you would never get into the vile, evil pranks we big boys do. We are not about to let you ruin our weekend.'
'Quite,' said Beball, preening the fluffy black feather decorating his red velvet cap. 'Last Saturday we lured a gambler into betting everything he owned on one shake of the dice. Then we talked a miserable student into throwing himself off the church bell tower.'
'Ha ha ha!' chortled Behemoth. 'If the foolish wretch had waited another day, the scholarship he so mourned not receiving would have arrived in the post!'
'It was well done, Behemoth, well done!' Beball screeched, slapping his brother on the back.
'I'm fizzing to see how that ruined gambler is getting along!' cackled Behemoth, rubbing his sinewy hands together gleefully.
Beball's round, red little eyes shone with excitement. 'Me too. If all goes well tonight we should succeed in talking him into murdering his uncle to get his inheritance, or at the very least selling one of his own children.'
'Go and knock a chicken off its perch, or whatever else you spend the night not doing, Murmur!' cried Behemoth, seizing his gleaming, razor-sharp pitchfork.
Beball grabbed his pitchfork too. 'Yes, kitten-tail, we are off. We wish you bad night.'
Murmur sighed wistfully. 'Bad night then, see you in the morning.'
Brandishing their pitchforks gleefully, Beball and Behemoth let out a shriek of fiendish laughter and passed through the door without opening it.
Murmur moped about the empty hallway despondently for a little while. Then he picked up his pitchfork, which he had dropped when his father shouted at him, and clip-clopped towards the door. His two little hooves sounded like a baby goat as he passed across the floorboards, and the prongs of his pitchfork bumped after him as he dragged it carelessly along the floor.
'Abracadabra!' he called, and thought hard the thoughts Professor Classyalabolas had told him to use for passing through solid doors and walls.
A second later his face hit the hard door. Then he bounced off the door and landed flat on his back.
'Yow!' he yelped, hardly knowing whether to clutch his smarting front half or stinging back half first.
But he was philosophical about this failure. Failure was to be expected if you did not do your homework. Being a slothful little demon, Murmur reckoned that it was a waste of time mastering the art of passing through walls. It was easier to simply wait until next century and senior school, where they taught teleportation. Who needed to pass through a solid wall or door when you could just say 'abracadabra' and find yourself in the place you wished to be in an instant? The fact that, as even his big brothers had yet to master teleportation, he himself might fail at it did not occur to Murmur.
Still rubbing his squashed nose with one hand, Murmur got to his feet and picked his little pitchfork up off the floor yet again. He did not have a second go at passing through the solid door. He rarely had a second go at anything that did not work the first time.
After passing through the front door in the fail-safe, universal open-door-walk-through-close-door manner, the little demon trotted down the wet, mossy front path. Dead leaves that had fallen from the ancient oak and elm trees standing in the overgrown garden clung to the ground, and cowered amongst the stalky brown grass.
When Murmur reached the garden gate, he stopped and turned to look back at the house. The house had been abandoned by its last human occupants many, many years ago. Its steeply gabled roof was missing many tiles, its wooden sides housed more woodworm than ever the house had humans, and its sinking, rotting piles gave the whole house a contorted, twisted appearance. The wind whistled and moaned through the many broken windowpanes and idly, fretfully, swung back and forth the windows that had come unlatched at some point during time's eternal march. Other less resilient window frames had fallen before weather and woodworm's slow but unceasing assault, and plunged into what was once the garden but was now a graveyard where old implements went to die.
To look back on a home that was so forlorn and decaying would have depressed even the sunniest human soul. But Murmur was positively cheered by this decrepit sight, for he was a demon. To a demon, this residence was a highly desirable piece of real estate. Being immortal spirits, demons did not feel the cold. The winds that wailed through the cracks and broken windows merely provided a soothing background noise, especially on dark winter days when the north wind cut his biting way across the land. As for the darkness, the dampness and the decay, demons love nothing better than these things. Destruction and rot are held in the same esteem by demons as sweet-faced babies and spring daffodils are by humans. In addition to these musty charms, this house was also most well located. Although in a quiet cul-de-sac, all local amenities were within easy walking distance: the graveyard, the town centre, the vice-dens, the gates of Hell. All nearby.
'Very handy indeed,' Murmur commented aloud, for he was rather in the habit of talking to himself.
Then he swung open the creaking gate, which hung by only one rusty hinge, and set off down the deserted street. The dark, wet cobbles shone slickly in the light cast by the tall gas lamps standing sentry-like beside the road. It was barely five O'clock in the evening, but already dusky twilight had descended on the town. This was why the demons like winter best of all. The sun sets early and rises late, giving the demons many hours of darkness to roam abroad in search of mischief. They cannot abide sunlight; it burns and stings their beady little eyes.
Murmur gave the tall iron gas lamps a wide berth as he trit-trotted down the sidewalk, keeping close to the neglected, unkempt trees and hedges leaning out over the garden fences like cows looking for greener pastures. The way in which the silently drifting fog and coal smoke created fuzzy halos of soft light around the street lamps made the little demon especially jumpy. He did not like being out so early. It was not properly dark. Ordinary humans could not see demons, even in broad daylight. Most demons, that is. If a demon became very weak he could become visible to humans. Like the time Murmur had got so lazy and fed up with trying to be bad all the time that he had been spotted by the vicar's wife whilst loitering about in the churchyard on a brightly moonlit night last decade. She had screamed and screeched like nothing he had ever heard, but luckily the vicar did not believe in demons. He had just told his wife to calm her fevered imagination, and quietly made a mental note to start looking for a suitable lunatic asylum in case she worsened.
By the time Murmur had made his slow, furtive way down to the end of the street, the winter darkness had taken a firmer hold. It was greatly aided in this by reinforcements of ghostly white fog that had crept stealthily over the mile of marshland that lay between the city and the sea to join its kindred.
The little demon stopped at the crossroads. 'Left to the slums where the poor live, or right to the glittering clubs, shops and restaurants where the rich swan about?' he pondered aloud. He looked down the street going left. 'The poor are already pushed halfway to Hell by deprivation, but then again?' Murmur gave a shiver as he remembered the din of squabbling beggars, rowdy drunks and shouting fishwives that filled the muddy, narrow alleys and overcrowded hovels inhabited by the poor.
He looked down the street going to the right. 'The rich are already pushed halfway to Hell by the corruption, greed and pride that are wealth's bedfellows, but then again?' He pulled his little cloak more tightly about himself as he remembered that the wealthy quarters of town were always light up like a Christmas tree until the early hours of the morning. What if someone saw him??
If someone had observed this little scene, they may have been impressed by Murmur's knowledge of human weakness and evil. But if they had, they would be sadly mistaken. The little demon knew these things not from practical experience, but from his schoolbook, under the heading what makes humans susceptible to falling into evil? Murmur had had to ask his teacher what 'susceptible' meant too. He still trembled slightly at the memory of the bellows of 'you stupid little runt!' which had greeted his tiny, innocent little question.
He let out a sigh that was surprisingly large for such a small demon. Then, with head hanging tiredly and pitchfork dragged bumperty-bump down the street behind him, he reluctantly clip-clopped off down the road that was neither the left nor the right, but straight ahead instead. This street led to the part of town between the rich and the poor ends. The folk there were generally the least sin-inclined of all the town's inhabitants, but the mingling of richer and poorer did create some opportunities for demons. It was better than giving up and going home, at any rate. Little Murmur was desperate. He just had to get into some trouble and be bad this night, or his father would be angry.
Suddenly, Murmur slid to a stop. He lifted his only-slightly-hooked nose and sniffed the damp night air. 'Yes, seems it might be?' he muttered to himself, then took another big sniff. 'Yes, definitely fear.'
He turned to face the large townhouse he stood in front of. Then 'slireeech!' went his little hooves on the pavement as he saw a Rottweiler staring grimly back at him from behind the iron gate.
'Don't be a silly saint, Murmur,' said the little demon to himself, silencing his jittering nerves and looking around furtively, afraid that some other demon might have seen this shameful reaction. 'Demons can't be bitten by dogs. We are immortal spirits. Yessss, evil spectres of the darkness?' he said, in the best evil hiss he could manage.
It was far too squeaky and high-pitched to be a good evil hiss, but it was enough for the huge dog. The slivering, wolf-toothed beast let out a yelp and fled back into his kennel, from whence he did not emerge until daybreak.
'Ah yes,' murmured Murmur, feeling very self-satisfied. 'Yes indeed. Evil we are, very eeevil...'
Then, smirking smugly, he slipped through the gate and clip-clopped up the path as stealthily and sinisterly as one who sounds like a baby goat can. The townhouse sat silently amid the darkened lawn. All of its windows were dark save one.
'There he is, there is the mean miser?' muttered Murmur, and attempted to draw his short cloak about him with a swashbuckling, cloak-and-dagger sweep.
But his cloak got tangled in his tail, and then his tail got tangled in his legs, and then he almost fell flat on his face.
Cursing his ambition, little Murmur flapped his cloak out of the way with a heated swipe that was neither sinister nor evil, but merely flustered. Abandoning the stealthy creep, he continued across towards the window at a plain, basic old walk.
The dim light shining from within the room came from a single thin candle, tallow not beeswax, stuck in an old wine bottle sitting on a table. It was the very cheapest lighting sold by the general store on the corner (and the bottle came free). By its poor, feeble light a hunch-shouldered, hollow-faced man sat at the table on a stool with one of its legs missing.
The task of balancing the broken seat on its two remaining legs was a hard one. But although his stool wobbled and jittered beneath him, not for even a single moment was the miser's attention removed from the gold coins lying in two heaps upon the table before him. The gold glinted dimly in the feeble flame, and the gold's glint glittered in the miser's hard, greedy eyes.
'Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three?' counted the miser, moving a coin from one pile to the other each time he counted.
Forlorn sat the hearth. In spite of the cold of the bleak winter's evening, the fireplace was filled only with grey ash and dead black ambers. No fire had blazed there for many long years. Not since the price of coal had gone up.
Murmur crept up through the weed-choked garden beneath the window and pressed his face to the cold glass. The dead twigs of the roses that once had bloomed in the garden crunched under the demon's little hooves. Not since the gardener increased his rates had the roses been tended.
Sitting in the cheerless room hunched over his gold, the miser did not see the pair of beady little red eyes pairing in, nor the curly mop of black hair with the two little horns sticking out of it. But Murmur did. In the shady, dusty-faced mirror hanging above the fireplace, he caught his reflection looking back at him. He jumped clean off the ground in shock. Demons ought to be invisible to human eyes, and that meant their reflections should not show in mirrors.
When the little demon landed, a thorn from a dry, dead rose branch still unclaimed by decomposition bit into the tender space between the halves of one of his cloven hooves. Gasping and gibbering to himself, Murmur grabbed his smarting hoof with both hands and began hopping around in circles on the lank-grassed lawn. But the miser did not notice the cursing demon floundering around on his lawn. He was too intent on his gold. His eyes, hard and cold as the metal, saw nothing but the coins in front of him.
The stinging pain between Murmur's toes receded to an insistent ache, so he stopped his hopping and his tail stopped its whipping and its snapping. Then the little demon looked furtively about him. But no other demon had seen his ridiculous dance. Letting out a little sigh of relief, Murmur straightened his eschew ruff collar, smoothed his crumpled satin doublet, and walked back up to the window. This time, he did not creep.
Within the cold, bleak room, the miser still sat hunched on his wobbling stool counting his coins. 'Ninety-seven, ninety-eight?' he muttered, letting two coins drop one after the other onto the pile. His hard, gold-lusting eyes lit up with delight at the 'chink, chink,' of the falling coins. Then the miser counted 'Ninety-nine-' And his counting stopped. There were no more coins on the pile. 'Where is it, where is it?' he cried wildly, his lean fingers scrabbling franticly around the table in search of the missing coin.
Outside in the winter darkness, the little demon chortled fiendishly to himself. It was not a very fiendish chortle, but it was chilling enough.
'My coin, my coin! I must find it!' came the miser's cries from within, and he tossed the broken stool aside and begun groping about the floor on his hands and knees.
In his wild frenzy, the miser knocked against the table and sent the bottle holding the candle toppling over. In an instant, the dim light was extinguished and the room plunged into murky blackness.
Thumps and thuds and knocks joined the miser's frenzied cries and the panicked scrabbling of his hands. The gleeful chortles of the watching demon grew louder and louder. So intent on his search was the miser that he would not stop to relight the candle. So he searched on in the darkness, and his cries grew louder and louder.
Fear filled the damp, cold air, and the little demon breathed deeply of it. He felt his strength and power expand as the miser's fear filled him and fed him. Murmur pressed his only-slightly-hooked nose to the cold glass and looked once again into the dusty-faced mirror. This time, no little demon looked back at him.
Murmur cackled aloud, a great 'Mwa-ha-ha-ha!' and he swung his cloak about himself with devilish ease.
Still chortling like a mad monkey, the little demon trit-trotted back down the path. Behind him came the despairing shrieks and cries of the miser. 'Where is it, where is my coin? Oh my treasure, where is it? Where, where? Ahhh!' A crazed scream rent the murky, mouldy-breathed darkness, and crash after crash followed it as the miser began tearing apart the house in his desperate search.