All the Devil's Greed

“By trying to convince himself I was a devil by nature, my father made me a devil by nurture.”

Mary-Ann Lansfield’s outbursts cause strange happenings in their house, prayers and church visits seem to stir unbearable pain inside her, and her hunger is so insatiable she’s forced to raid the pantry every night just to keep it at bay. It’s no wonder, really, that everyone believes she’s possessed by the Devil.

The more she’s hurt and berated by those around her, the wickeder Mary-Ann feels, and the more she longs for the freedom she’s been denied all her life- the freedom to live however, love whoever, and eat whatever she chooses. Even after everything she’s been told about the evil in the world, what she really wants is to become every inch the monster she’s feared to be.

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Author's note

Hello! I'd just like to stress that this book contains a lot of blood, guts, violence, abuse, and religious themes. My protagonist is extremely morally skewed and her opinions are most definitely not my own. I never killed anyone, honest! Never!
AA

13. Corruption

My father, with that brass lamp, makes hours and hours simply disappear. I don’t sleep, don’t dream. Don’t slowly come back into consciousness with the impression that time has passed. Simply, one moment it’s light and I’m standing by the window, looking up at him, and the next I’m lying in my bed in the dark. There’s a single candle burning by my bedside, painting orange tendrils onto the duvet.

When the door opens and Father walks in, I jump out of bed. He must’ve tucked me in. How sweet. He closes the door behind him, and I frown as I see the tray he’s carrying. It’s not my usual supper of dry toast and an apple, but a proper meal- something steaming, that smells of meat. My mouth’s already watering even before our eyes meet.

“What?” I say, realising my voice is still slurred. My head is heavy and hot and my eyelids feel pressed shut.

“Hello.” Is all he says as he sits down beside me. His eyes look guarded.

“Hello.” I say. “What are you doing?”

“I’m bringing you dinner.”

We both look down at the tray. The plate contains two buttered slices of bread and three slices of chicken. There’s another plate containing dessert biscuits, and a glass of milk. So it is for me. I’m so hungry I could weep, but I look up at him, utterly bewildered.

“Thank you.”

I say it without smiling.

“You’re welcome.” He hands me the tray.

I look up at him as I spear a piece of chicken on the end of my fork and raise it to my lips.

“Is this an apology?” I ask before eating it.

He looks at me, his mouth pressed. “What?”

“An apology. For knocking me out.”

“Oh. Well…” He runs a hand up through his hair. “Yes. I… suppose so.”

“How long was I out?”

“A day.”

“A day?” I splutter, putting the fork back down without eating. “A day?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, you should feel bad! How hard did you hit me?”

He says nothing, but his gaze wanders up from my eyes. I raise a hand to my forehead and gag when my fingers touch my skin. There’s a lump the size of a tennis ball above my right eye, strangely soft on the surface but hard underneath. The pain that races out from that single touch brings tears to my eyes.

“You hit me.”

He sighs, clearly scrabbling to get his anger back. “Yes.”

“With a lamp.”

“Yes.”

“You hit me and knocked me out for a day.”

“Yes, Mary-Ann. I’m sorry. Now eat.”

“You’re not sorry!” I choke. “Why the hell would you be sorry? I was screaming like a banshee! You hit me to shut me up, didn’t you?”

“Mary-Ann, I-”

“I forgive you.” I say. “You don’t need to bring me food to apologise. I have a language, you know, besides eating.”

“I know.”

“Then why?” I say. “And why would you bring it up yourself? You don’t have to see me if you don’t want. You could’ve just told… the housemaid to bring it to me.”

I don’t know why I say it, because I don’t want to see her either.

“It’s the bare minimum,” Father growls. “To keep you alive, for goodness’ sake.”

“Why the sudden desperation to keep me alive? I thought you were trying to starve me.” I say bitterly. “I thought it was decided it’d be easier if I just died.”

“God damn you, maybe!” Father says.

I don’t flinch. “So why not let me?”

“Because I… because I still love you!” He says. “As your father, I still love you.”

I stare at him.

“You said you hated me.”

“Eat it, Mary-Ann.”

“You told me you detested me!” I say. “In the pantry you told me you hated me.”

“You said you hated me first.”

“I do.”

“I was angry with you.”

“You’re supposed to be the adult! I say. “Down there we were like two children! Why can’t you just make up your mind about me?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean over whether I’m possessed or not. Why would you keep feeding me if you only thought you were feeding a demon?”

“Maybe I don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t…” He sighs angrily, running his hand through his hair again. “Don’t think you’re a demon.”

I laugh bitterly. “Well, in that case, why would you keep hurting me if you thought you were hurting your daughter?”

He doesn’t reply. He rubs his face, looking exhausted. For the first time, I wonder whether he’s slept much more than me. Why must he keep changing his mind about me? Why must he keep changing my mind about him?

“I suppose…” I say, swallowing spit as I look down at the food. “I should eat.”

I’m ravenous, but I don’t want to eat in front of him. Sure, if I eat it, and eat it all, he’ll know his efforts have failed to drive the hunger from me. But I’d still be eating food he brought me, expressing gratitude, and proving I am now utterly dependent on him. The sudden wave of weakness I feel makes me sob. I start a little, but don’t jump away, as he takes my hand.

I look up at him. Blink as a tear falls down my cheek. He presses his lips tighter and I wonder, for one single second, whether he’s going to cry too. But he doesn’t.

Instead of eating, as I so desperately want to, I let him put his arm around me and pull me closer to him. I hold the tray to keep it from falling and resist the urge to hug him back. He has. He has broken me.

He lets me go.

“Eat it.” He says, the commanding tone back in his voice.

“No.” I say softly.

“Mary-Ann, please.”

“No! I will not forgive you!” I say, pushing the tray off my lap onto the bed. “I will not play your game! I don’t want it.”

“You’re not hungry?”

“Of course I’m hungry.” I growl, suddenly hot again. “But not going to eat it.”

“Why? Because I brought it?”

“Yes.”

“God damn you, Mary-Ann! Why do you insist on defying my every request?”

“You know why.”

“I don’t.”

“It’s because I…” I growl, forcing the tears back. “hate… you. And I will not let you win.”

“It’s been three weeks, and you’re already so close to letting me.”

“I’m not close.” I lie.

“You are.” His grip on my hand turns into a crushing squeeze. “And even if you’re not, it’s only been three weeks. You’ll be trapped in here for another three years at least. You’ll give up… eventually.”

“I won’t.”

“You will.”

“I won’t!” I shout, tearing my hand away from him and standing up. “I’m not eating your food; now take it and get out!”

“Mary-Ann-”

“Get OUT!” I yell, tears pouring down my cheeks. I force hysteria into my words, hoping to scare him off. Get rid of him before he tries to hug me again. If he does, he’ll break me for good. “Get out! Get out! Get OUT!”

“Fine!” He says, getting to his feet. “Fine.”

He walks towards the door. I already want him back.

“Take your tray.” I spit, looking down at the tray on my bed.

“No,” he says, pulling open the door. “You’ll want to eat it eventually.”

“I won’t.”

“You will, Mary-Ann. You’ll eat it or starve, and I know you’ll choose to eat. You always choose to eat.”

His words are strangely vicious. Strangely victorious. I look at him.

“There’s nothing I’d rather eat than food you brought me.” I say.

“Why? I’m just your father.”

“You,” I spit, reaching for my hair for no good reason, “are not my father.”

There’s a long silence. He stands with his hand on the door, staring at me, until realisation flickers in his eyes.

“I know.” He says. Then, he shuts the door.

 

 

How, if I cannot even pinpoint how much time has passed after waking up, do I still have memories from when I was three years old? I suppose it is because they are my last truly happy memories. Before Father had made enough money to build our big ugly mansion, we all lived in Father’s little townhouse. Mother was nearly disinherited when she married him, but she didn’t care, because she was- and maybe even still is now- in love. So she claimed, anyway.

Owen calls that into question.

Owen was our gardener. He was, back then, the only servant we had. I think he’d worked for my parents for about a decade before my father fired him. He was quite young- not more than twenty-five or twenty-six- and was always smiling. He wouldn’t fit into our new life, but he fitted in perfectly back then, back when our life was bright and colourful and full of flowers.

I always loved the dandelions and the daisies that grew on our little lawn, but he added bushes of claret roses and bright yellow daffodils and big frilly orange carnations and bluebells and foxgloves too. The purple ones were my favourites- the bright heather, the wintry violets, the lavender I used to pick clean of its grains so I could hold fistfuls to my face and inhale their smell. I think Mother or Owen must have found out that purple was my favourite colour, because suddenly, in the summer I turned four, the garden was all purple. It was my garden, Owen told me- the grass was mine, the flowers were mine, the little bumblebees were all mine. I was stung by bees many times that summer, wanting to pick them up and stroke them. I didn’t mind the pain, though. For the first time in my life, something was mine.

Duncan used to play in the garden with me- this was before the mansion, before Plague-Man, before our games became infected with darkness. But I preferred to be alone, or with Owen. I suppose it was strange how close we were- he was a servant, and even though Father was a little sweeter back then, he still didn’t want his daughter associating with that commoner. Owen was the first person to ever call me beautiful and, I think, until Catty, the last. He loved my hair the most. He even used to braid it for me, filling the braids with purple flowers and calling me a flower-fairy. When I told him how much my father hated my hair, Owen understood.

“It is hard to deal with, isn’t it?” He said, mussing his own hair with the flat of his hand and pulling a face at me.

“Yes.” I giggled and did the same.

“Stop, stop!” He laughed. “You’ll pull out all the flowers.”

“Oh, no!” I said, stopping. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Petal.” I forget. He used to call me Petal. “We can pick more. There are millions more, aren’t there?”

“Yes.” I giggled. “Enough to do your hair, too.”

He pulled another face, and I laughed.

His hair was curly, too. And gold like mine. And his eyes were the same as mine and he blushed like me. He was short, too, and a little plump. I think, looking back, Owen must have been terrified of how similar we looked. He should’ve quit before Father fired him. He should’ve quit the day I was born- no, the day Mother found out she was pregnant again. I only saw them together once- Mother came out to send me inside, and he tried to take her hand before she could follow me. She saw me looking from the shadow of the door and tore her hand away. Father was out that day, but he was always watching them like a hawk.

I don’t blame him.

I don’t blame him for his anger, actually. Or for firing Owen. Or for whatever he did to Mother. Or for detesting me as I grew up and became less and less like him with every passing day. I don’t blame him for trying to convince himself he wasn’t my father thanks to the Devil- it was less embarrassing, I suppose, than the truth. I wonder where Owen is now. I wonder whether I would still have gone mad if he hadn’t been fired. I still wonder, even now, whether infidelity can foster evil. Whether I am the Devil’s child, because of someone else’s sin. In the end, does it really matter who my real father is? No. By trying to convince us all I was evil by nature, my Father made me evil by nurture. And now, it’s too late to reverse his work.

 

 

Four hours have passed, the sky has turned black, and that tray of food is quickening my pulse. An hour ago, I yanked it off my bed and put it at the other end of the room- I should’ve pushed it, overturned it, but it’s still intact. And the way it smells is driving me mad.

“No. No. No. Don’t you dare.” I tell myself as my fingers start itching and my stomach growls and the claws scratch at my insides. “No, Mary-Ann. No. No. No. If you eat it, he wins.”

This is ridiculous. This isn’t a contest. Eating that food won’t change anything. It won’t break anything in me that hasn’t already been broken.

I’ve never been this hungry before; never, never, never. It’s all I think about for five minutes, ten, twenty, half an hour, more- the pain in my stomach. I sit on the windowsill and push the window open, running my eyes down the twenty feet I have to fall to the driveway. Would I die? Yes. Good. I grit my teeth and blow through them, hard, running my tongue all over my mouth and drawing up spit. I roll my eyes up inside my head. I don’t know what’s wrong with me now. Maybe it’s the head injury. Maybe it’s something taking hold. I say let it.

I blink, and suddenly I’m on the other side of the room. The tray is at my feet. Just eat it, you melodramatic fool, I think to myself, and I snatch up the plate of chicken and bread and take it to my bed, sitting down with it and devouring it with my eyes. I forgot the fork. But that doesn’t matter, does it? I remember all the things I’ve eaten in my life bare-handed. I remember the way I eat whenever I’m alone. Out of control. Frenzied. Feral. Monstrous. Every time.

Your greed will get the better of you.

I look down at the plate. It’s only food, for God’s sake. Why am I trying so hard to resist? It’s only because of my final words to him.

There’s nothing I’d rather eat than food you brought me.

Suddenly, the claws rip through me and I scream, snarling, gritting my teeth. The plate on my lap falls to the ground and shatters and I suddenly find myself on my knees, my legs bleeding through my nightgown, pawing through broken china for scraps of food. I come up with a fistful that bloodies my palm. Just cram it in. Broken shards and all. Monsters don’t care what they eat.

I snarl louder and fling the handful across the room; then, I gather up as much of the mess as I can and run to fling it out of the window. It rains down onto the gravel. I wonder if Father will see it. I don’t care. I’m so hungry I can’t think. I’m covered in the smell of blood and sweat and salt. A sob bursts from me, and I run to the tray before holding myself back again.

No.

If you must eat, try the door.

You gave him your word.

Growling, I run across the room and slam my body full-force into the door. I hit it without even slowing my run and the impact shudders through me. I seize the handle, even though I know full well it’s locked, and jiggle it back and forth and back and forth till my fist’s clenched so tightly it cramps when I let go. I shake it. Go again. This time, I turn it and-

-it opens.

For a minute, I stand in my doorway, frozen, as my shadow spills like ink over the hallway floorboards. Three weeks I’ve been trapped in this room and now, at the dead of night- due to some mistake of my Father’s, it seems- I’m free. My tiny prison has become an infinitely larger one; my one meal has become a thousand.

Even though I know the entire household is asleep, as I step out into the corridor, I imagine coming across somebody. For some reason, instead of picturing Mother or Father or Catty, I picture Cecil. In fact, I picture a whole host of Father’s colleagues, Mother’s friends. I imagine those who believed I was ill. I imagine virtual strangers and I walk as though the world is watching me, as though luxuriated in fearful glances.

The voices in my head narrate my walk down the corridor. Here she comes, gracing the staircase like a ghost. The monster in Mary-Ann’s body. The thing the world feared dead or dying, or perhaps hoped. Her face, once pink and plump, grey and sunken and scored and cut up by shadows, smattered with acne. Her chaotic gold curls flattened and rotted by grease, hanging in thick ropes over her eyes. Her gaze dark and empty, miserable, dead. Hungry. Vicious. Sadistic. Desperate. Her nightgown grey and ragged, bloodied at the knees, her hands and bare feet filthy. Here she comes: the walking corpse. The beast. She’s escaped her cage. She’s hungry. So get out of her way before she sets her sights on you.

I walk barefoot along the corridor and open the door to the pantry. I don’t know what I’m doing, but something deep inside me does. You know what your father wants from you, Mary-Ann. No- he doesn’t want you to eat, not really. What he wants is to watch you crumble. He wants to unpick your stitches and pull you apart, cut your strings and let you fall. Down. Down. He wants to break you not with his control over you, but with your defiance to it. You’re going to prove him right, now, aren’t you? The cupboards are still locked, but what could a monster want with real food? My hunger’s bloody and dirty and feral. I go to the larder and stand on tiptoe, running one index finger over the strings attached to the ceiling. You’re going to prove him right and you’re going to ruin him with fright in the process. You’re going to show him the consequences of his reign of terror. You’re going to show him the monster he made of you.

You’re going to try his patience and lose.

You’re going to play his game and win.

I don’t know whether I’m me anymore. I know that I’m the same as I was earlier today, and the day before that, and the day before that. I feel ethereal somehow, disconnected, suspended in air with my feet off the ground. Perhaps floating, or drowning in a bottomless sea, my world narrowed to nothing but the revolting hunger inside me. And the thought that I’ll do anything to quench it. Anything. Anything. Anything. Anything. Anything. Anything. Anything.

Die. Kill. Anything.

I look around, one last time, and smile to myself when I see there’s no food in this larder- only a tub of rat poison on the shelf by the door, a single half-empty jar of jam, and two dead chickens hanging from the ceiling. I look down. I greedily seize the jam jar and unscrew the lid. Start to scoop it into my mouth and moan and sigh and swallow. The jam is unbearably sweet and it sticks my mouth, my throat, seeming to cling furry to my tongue. Every seed grates through me and dries me out, like I’m eating sand, but I keep eating. And then I let the jar fall, explode into dust on the kitchen tiles.

Focused, eyes narrowed, lips set, head on straight, I reach up to the string and detach one of the dead birds. It’s heavier than I suspected, in my hands. Heat floods my face, jabbing harder at my cheeks and the backs of my eyes than I’ve ever felt it jab before, and the animal manifestation of my hunger seems to leave my stomach, surge up through my chest, come into my mouth, reach out. I know how I look now. If I were caught I would be hung or burned. Demon. Demon. Demon. Demon. The crowds would chant. Flaming torches. Pitchforks. Raised fists and anguished cries and frightened children. Attention. The wrong kind and the right. I want it. I feel a frenzy coming on, hard. I walk out into the pantry, face the open door, lean against the counter. I take the dead bird in both my hands and raise it to my mouth. Its stomach is the last thing I see before my world goes black and I wake up with a face covered in blood and feathers.

No, I’m only joking.

I feel every. Single. Bite.

There’s a rainstorm going on. I chew a bite and swallow it heavily- I don’t know whether it’s my second or my twentieth, but what I do know is that I’m starting to feel full. So I suppose my twentieth. The sky outside faintly rumbles with retreating thunder and a sudden lash of wind drives rain hard against the window. The glass is speckled with raindrops, chasing each other. The comforting gaze of my reflection washes over me. That girl isn’t so different from me anymore- I recognise myself in those flattened cheeks, those painfully black shadows, that acrid grin. I even welcome those grey, rotten eyes and the infection of rusted veins that spreads out over her face, flickering behind her lustrous blue amphibian’s skin. I wipe the thick crust of blood and feathers from my face, thinking of vampires. I hold the carcass in my hands up to my face, by its skinny neck. It’s picked clean. I am not a woman. I am not a demon. I am a predator. A vulture. An animal. I think of running. Suddenly, I want nothing more than to run and run and run till I’m lost in the wilderness in this hysterical rainstorm. But how would I get out? The window? The front door. If I could run fast enough.

I turn towards the door with my bloodied face and see nothing but an empty corridor. I hear the footsteps, and I don’t make an effort to run or hide the carcass or wipe away the blood. And then, she appears, in her nightgown, holding her candle. Catty.

I raise my head from the carcass, somehow unable to shatter my sadistic grin or to say a single word. I’m not in control. She screams when she sees me there, of course- I’m covered in blood and my face is nothing but a nightmare. She drops her candle, and after the sudden pulse into darkness, with the metal taste of blood still in my mouth, I run at her. She sprints for the scullery and locks herself in and I’m stuck on the other side- I run full-force into the door and stay pressed there, my arms and legs splayed, my cheek to the wood. And I speak, in the rusted voice of the thing inside my head, which even though it’s not Mary-Ann’s voice is still infected with the agony of losing the girl Mary-Ann loved: “Oh, let me in.”

She screams again. Why the hell would she let me in? I laugh, even though I’m not funny.

“Come on. I was only hungry. You know my hunger. You accepted it. You encouraged it. You fostered it, nurtured it, just like the rest, and now I’ve become it. Aren’t you proud? If not proud, how about ashamed? Can I get, at the very least, some fear? Come on. You’re not screaming LOUD enough!” I bellow over the sound of her tear-soaked screams. “You KNEW I was hungry! If you didn’t want to become a victim then how DARE you come down and interrupt me? I’ll make you PAY! I’ll make you pay! I will! I will! I WILL!”

I stop yelling and press myself harder to the door, heaving up and down with breaths. I feel sick. When the shouts and heavy footsteps begin upstairs, my first thought is See how many you could hurt. Find them. Hunt them. But my second is run. And now, I feel like Mary-Ann again, whether I am or not. And so I leave Catty with a cackle. And then I fling myself down the corridor.

“Mary-Ann! Mary-Ann! Stop!”

Whose bleary voice is that, chasing after me as I run down the corridor and fling myself as hard as I can against the front door to wrestle with the handle? Who knows? Who cares? I let this new sort of frenzy consume me and prime my muscles, making my tight throat and mad heartbeat irrelevant. I give up on the front door and hurl myself towards the dining-room, even though I know the side door is a better bet; I grab hold of a chair and throw it as hard as I can at the window. As hard as I can is harder than I could have ever thought. The chair bounces, but the glass explodes and runs in a silver waterfall to the ground. That persistent voice is in the doorway now. It’s coming forwards. But the shadow by the dining-table gasps and staggers back as I turn back to snarl, face covered in blood, after mounting the windowsill. Then, I fling myself out into the storm.

Run. It’s the only thing on my mind and even though I feel my blood turning to acid and my throat wringing itself dry and the taste of metal flooding back into my mouth, I obey it. The night is nothing but solid black streaked by silver pinstripes of rain and so I cannot see where I’m going, but I feel my legs growing weaker as the ground steepens into a hill. Then, I reach the forest, ploughing full-pelt into a thorn-bush and letting loose what sounds suspiciously like a little girl’s scream before staggering to my feet. The bushes claw at me, at my clothes- they rip bits of me away like I’m paper. My hair gets caught. My hair and what’s left of my dress get agonisingly heavy with rain and I become so cold, so numb, I can barely stagger on. Back in that kitchen, I wanted to be an animal. Exempt from laws and customs. When I was a child, I wanted to be a bird. Free to soar. No more. Nature’s awful. I want to go home. But through the rain and the remnants of thunder, those voices may be chasing me still.

Everything’s a black blur but through it all I hear the rain getting quieter, growing lighter on the canopy above me. A couple of bird-calls break through. I hear them as familiar voices, but not shouts of distress behind me- rather, calls of comfort in front of me. In my mind’s eye I see everyone, from Mother to Father to Owen to Catty to Duncan to Florrie to Lula, waiting for me behind trees, running towards me through clearings, sometimes even appearing from the ground or from the sky or from thin air, wrapping me into hugs that melt into nothing. Last of all, I see myself, covered in blood and feathers and steel-eyed and grease-covered and matted with dirt, even though I know it’s all already been washed away. Perhaps the black crust on my lips and chin and neck still remains. I remind myself of the madwomen in my mother’s romance novels- wild, dangerous, senseless, poetic in their disorder, and very little else. I feel cleaner. My nightgown’s been torn almost away up to my knees and so I can run. Till my lungs wither inside my chest and I can run no more. Till the stitches knot around my ribs and I start to hate every pound of extra weight I still have far more than my father ever could. Long after the thunder has stopped, once the rain has ceased enough to let my sounds echo in the silence, I throw up. My run slows to a pathetic string of stumbling. I give up on pushing forwards or trying to find my way back. I’m thinking clearly. Desperately afraid of my father finding out. My head starts to spin, and so does the forest above me, visible all in black against the royal-blue dawn sky. I feel as though I am falling, sinking into the ground. And then I feel as though I am floating. But no- I’m fainting.

 

 

I dream about a dog. A little brown, mangy terrier with one inside-out ear, wandering by the brook that runs on the other side of this forest. I found him one day when I was seven or eight, wandering alone and damp amongst the bulrushes as though he had lost something. As I scooped him up into my arms I immediately decided we were to be the best of friends, like the children and their pets in the picture-books I used to read. We were both misfits, this little puppy and I- both outcasts, with big stupid eyes and messy hair, and both, I suppose, looking for authority and guidance that never really came. Why was I alone that day? Don’t know. I could’ve fallen into the river, like that poor dog. Perhaps Father was counting on it.

I don’t remember what I called the dog, even though I’d decided we were to be inseparable for the rest of our lives and grow old and die together. I suppose the name doesn’t matter. The moment I walked through the door with him in my arms, Father snatched him from me, took him around to the back, near the wood-chopping shed, and took the axe to him.

I do know why he did it. He didn’t want anything dirty stepping foot inside his house, tainting it, poisoning it. After the dog was taken from me, I was immediately whisked away for a bath and my old clothes were thrown away. If something threatens to ruin my father, it is put out of its assumed misery. Something occurred to me as I walked into that larder tonight. Something to do with the tub of rat poison. But I was forced to leave it alone and run. The monster made me. The monster always makes me.

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