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

12. Insanity

I never knew anything could hurt as much as this- being locked between the same four walls, under the same ceiling, on the same rectangle of floor, for day after day after god-damned day. My room’s always been my safe haven, and hiding-place, but now it’s my prison, these four walls and this ceiling and this floor are my tormentors.

I believe my parents have told everyone I’m ill.

I am.

I feel the sanity leaking from me, drip by drip.

Every morning, I wake up in the suffocating embrace of a different emotion. Saturday- anger. I slam my body into the walls, caring not for the way it bloodies me, and I scream and scream and scream my curses. When Father comes in to pray to me, I spit in his face and yowl and throw punches and kicks till he orders the servants to come in and hold me down. I wonder why the hell they still work here. Sunday- misery. I lie in my bed all day, tears wandering down my cheeks. I take a bath at noon, without washing myself- I lie naked in the water, staring at the ceiling. Monday- anger again. I scream so long and so loud that my throat feels shredded and things tumble from my bathroom shelf. Perhaps it was the ghosts. Tuesday- fear. Everything makes me jump, and so does nothing. When Father comes in I bite my duvet and curl my fists into my ears to keep away his words, begging him to stop before God kills me. Before he drags that demon kicking and screaming from my throat and makes me disappear. At dusk I see a dark shadow wandering through the garden and stay glued to it, my heavy head following its walk across the lawn before it melts away, and my eyes widen so far they ache. Wednesday- misery again. Thursday, Friday- fear again. I take a nap out of sadness on Saturday morning and wake up in the evening furious. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday- euphoria. I can’t stop laughing and singing and dancing and chatting to myself. When Father comes in, my wide grin stays plastered in place all hour long. Once, I manage to make him laugh. He wipes the grin away as best he can. At this point, I crave his company. Even enjoy it. After all, he and the Priest are the only human interaction I’m afforded. I suppose it’s only words. They may as well be in my head. Perhaps they are. But damn it, it’s something.

My mental state starts seeping through my skin, and becoming visible on my body. I start to sweat too much, but Father won’t give me a fresh nightgown. Smatterings of acne appear around my mouth. My hair grows heavy with grease. My mouth gets dry, my nose sore, my eyes bleary. My cheeks grow raw from scrubbing tears.

To the best of my Mother’s knowledge, my night terrors get worse. In truth, I barely sleep at all. I get better and better at pretending to scream in fear or anger, pretending to grow hysterical and have fits. I learn how to make my voice growl and grate and drop down low- still sounds like Mary-Ann doing voices, but of course it does- I am using her voice-box. Mother isn’t allowed into my room anymore. No matter how much she yells at Father now, he does not give her the key. I stand on the other side of the door as I pretend. I always hear when she gives up and runs back into Father’s arms, sobbing. I don’t know why I hate her more each and every time she does it. But I do, I do, I do.

Wednesday begins with fury. I lie there boiling and boiling and boiling, wondering, idly, whether if they were to cut me open I’d be rotten inside. I feel rotten inside. There’s something crawling inside my skull, fuzzy and hideously ticklish. I imagine the doctors squirreling away at my skin to bleed me and big, black insects crawling from my veins instead of blood, plopping into the cup. They just keep coming and coming. I imagine them filling my mouth and pushing behind my eyes. I imagine them swarming the walls and ceiling and floor till the room’s livid with them.

Father comes in as I’m lying there.

“Father?”

“Yes.” He grunts.

I bite the inside of my cheek. I’m not angry anymore- I’m sad instead. When I blink, a tear leaks down my cheek. I feel like a child. A stupid child who doesn’t care her father is wicked and just wants his love. I want to hug him. Know he’ll just jump away if I do.

I sniff. “Am I going mad?”

He snaps back into himself then. Looks down at his lap and opens his Bible. Starts to recite. I fall back onto my bed and soak up the words like I’m a sponge and they water. I’m thirsty.

When he’s done, he looks back at me. He stares at me for a long time, and I wonder if he’s studying me for signs I’m a demon. I wonder if he’s clinging onto that tenuous hope as desperately as I am, or whether he’s starting to think I might just be a ruined girl. Then, he reaches over and strokes my hair back from my face. Pulls it from my mouth, lays it out on my pillow carefully, as though arranging me for the grave.

“No, Mary-Ann. You’re not going mad.” He says. “You just need to be fixed.”

I chuckle sadly, remaining motionless with my eyes on the ceiling. “How is that going, Father?”

After a few seconds, he says: “Not very well.” Then, he gets up to leave.

I don’t know how long I lie on my bed once his key turns in the lock. I think about everything in that space of time. I think about Catty. I think about Duncan. I think about the kitchen, the beach, the jetty, the sand, the ghost of the wind in my hair, and the ghost of a hand too. I think of my lust. My hunger. I think of drowning. Sinking. I think of Father. Mother. God, Demons. Ghosts. Skulls. Skin and bones. Mud and water and sludge. Snow and ice. Breaking and fixing. Mirrors and shame and pride and looks and clothes and public and private and black and white and dark and light. I think. I think about going mad. I roll the idea around in my mouth, trying to remember these last two weeks, all the way back to the night Father caught me in the pantry. I try to pinpoint the moment I started losing my mind, but I can’t. I’m still only obeying the urges that come upon me. You’re happy, so laugh. You’re scared, so weep. You’re sad, so cry. You’re angry, so roar. I’m just doing my best. By acting mad, I’m staying sane. Or maybe acting sane all these years is what drove me mad.

I think of food. The hunger pains have become a constant presence inside me, only flaring up whenever I tune in. I clutch my stomach. Sit up and double over. Realise as I do that the misery has gone, and that nothing has replaced it. Nothing. I’m empty of emotion.

I can’t breathe for the pain. Last night the claws dug in deep, but now, they’re barely there at all. The only thing hurting me is a sickening sense of emptiness. I get up and go to the bathroom, wanting to look at myself in the mirror. My eyes look bigger than ever, my lips fuller, swollen and red. I’ve lost even more weight. There’s something in my face that seems less round- not sharp, quite, but flat about my cheeks- and my chin doesn’t fold into two unless I pull my head all the way back.

I start pulling silly faces at myself, as I used to with Duncan when I was tiny. I widen my eyes, cross them inwards and then outwards. I try to see how far I can roll them back, even though I can’t see myself when I do it. I grin to myself. I bite my lips this way and that to do silly things with my teeth. I wonder what I’d look like if my mouth was all gappy again, like it used to be. If I had spaces to poke my tongue. Spaces for fangs, perhaps. And what if I had no eyes at all? If they were black, not with ink, but simply gaping holes? I stick an index finger into each corner of my mouth and pull it wide, out of shape. I grip the sink with both hands and shove my face as close to the mirror as I can. I throw my hair back, ruffle it up, pile it on top of my head till strands start to fall across my face- I screw it up in my hands and muss it as hard as I can, till it’s huge and little curls stick out sideways.

I turn the tap on and let my hair fall in. My hands slip off the sink and I nearly fall. I snarl, digging my teeth desperately hard into my top lip till my eyes smart with the agony. I look away, feeling a tiny white dot of pain in the centre of my skull, and when I look back at the mirror, I feel different somehow. Lighter. Happier. Blood is oozing from my split lip. It tastes funny. I bare my crimson teeth at my reflection.

“I’m a vampire.” I softly say.

Then, I start back as the sink starts to overflow and freezing water splatters the ground. I don’t turn the taps off. Instead, I gasp in a mouthful of breath and hold it as I plunge my head into the water. Bubbles dribble over my cheeks. I realise, as my breath grows short and my throat grows tight and my head light, this is the first time I’ve washed since the bath last week. I yank my head out of the water, gasping in air and hurling my hair back in a huge sopping-wet arc. Water splatters the ceiling and the door behind me. I look into the mirror. I’m dripping, my eyes darker, my lips darker, the crust of blood gone, my skin somehow shinier and more translucent than it really ought to be. Perhaps just the lights. Perhaps. I look at myself through the grease-dark, water-darker stripes of hair falling in front of my face.

“I’m drowning.” I say, not realising I’m speaking in the demon’s voice till it’s started to ooze from my mouth. Then, I start to laugh. On purpose. I think.

As I throw my head back, I suddenly realise my mouth has filled with pieces of my hair. I pick them out. Then, I suddenly become painfully conscious of how heavy my hair is down my back, how no matter how many times I throw it out of my face, it always seems to come back. How it always gets in my mouth when I’m eating. I’ve wanted to cut my hair for a while, to have a fringe like the fashionable girls in town. Mother always told me it wouldn’t suit me. I’m suddenly seized by the unstoppable urge to cut my hair. When I scrabble through my bedroom cupboard, I find my nail-scissors.

I sit down on my bed, scissors in my hand, and pick a lock of hair from my hairline. It’s still wet, weighed heavy by the water, but I need to pull it down to get rid of the curl. Then, I raise the scissors to it. They cut with a delightful scrunching sound. I hold the severed lock of hair up- it’s long and damp, like a dead worm. I toss it to the ground and pick another from my head. Cut it. Throw it to the ground. Then, I hear a key turning in the lock.

I don’t move. I just cut another lock, relishing the anticipation of my father’s words.

“Mary… Mary-Ann?”

It’s not my father’s voice. And then, footsteps.

“What the hell are you doing?” I snarl at Catty as she sits next to me on the bed. I get up and move away from her.

“I was ordered to… to change the sheets.” She looks at me, taking me in.

“What, did Father think I might’ve soiled myself?” I say bitterly. I’ve had enough of her. I need her out. Now. “Or maybe bled all over them?”

“N… no.”

For some reason, it sounds like a lie.

Catty lays her hand on mine, but doesn’t try again once I’ve jerked it back.

“I wanted to see you.” Catty says.

“Well, then, why didn’t you come sooner?” I snarl.

“Your father only just gave me the key, Mary-Ann. He’s gone mad, hasn’t he?”

Nervously, she laughs. I don’t laugh back.

“He’s always been mad.” I say. I leak dreaminess into my voice. “Not as mad as me, though.”

“Mary-Ann, you’re not going mad.”

“Yes, I am.” I say. “Haven’t you heard me?”

“It’s not your fault. You’re pretending. Aren’t you?” She says. I don’t answer. I wish she’d go away. I’d nearly managed to convince myself I had nothing to lose by going mad- I need her gone before she changes my mind. But she doesn’t move.

“I want to…” She says, as I continue to ignore her. “I need to thank you for saving me.”

I look at her.

“That night, in the pantry.” She says. “I thought you were… you were gone. But then you got back up and told me to run. That’s when I realised this madness… it was… it was all an act. Thank you for saving me, Mary-Ann. You saved me.”

“Nobody needed to save you.” I growl. “You could’ve saved yourself.”

There’s a long silence. If Catty’s here to change the sheets, why the hell won’t she change them and leave me alone? She starts to speak, but I interrupt her.

“There-”

“Catty, I don’t think this madness is an act.” I say.

There’s a long silence.

“I am really going mad.I say, remembering to infect my voice with the demon’s growl. “I’m losing my mind. I am, Catty.”

She still says nothing, as I sit there, with her next to me, I want to grab her, but not kiss her. I want to hug her. I want her to hug me. I want one of us to say something; I can’t bear the thought of her being afraid of me. I like everyone’s fear but hers.

 “Well…” Catty says, a goofy smile in her voice that frustrates me somehow. “At least you’re safe in here, right?”

 “This is a prison cell.”

“Yes, but out there, people are going missing.”

I stay silent for a long time. Then, I look up at her through my hair.

“Missing?”

“Yes. From the town. A few young men went missing up in the woods on a hunting trip. Led by Mr Gregory. Richard Gregory, I mean. Not his son.”

“Mr Gregory? Fa… Father’s trading partner?”

“Yes. They all vanished. Last week.”

“How strange.” I say half-heartedly, smearing my hand across my face. Loose hairs are tickling the inside of my nose.

“People are saying they were taken by… by… by vampires.” Catty says. “Can you imagine that? Vampires, in those woods.”

“Ridiculous.” I smirk, but inwardly, my head’s spinning. Vampires. I can. I can imagine it. I suppose it should be ridiculous, but not to me- I grew up with monsters, supernatural and human. I believe in demons and God, and now, ghosts. Why not vampires? I wish, not for the first time in my life, that I was a vampire instead of whatever the hell I am. Immortal life. Not that this life is one worth immortalising

“I’m sure they’ll find them.” I say. “Living or dead.”

“Yeah…” Catty says shakily. Her voice is stale. I know she doesn’t want to be here anymore. And so, I start to pray she’ll change the sheets and leave before I have another spell and scare her off. I wonder why Father didn’t come in to do it. Why he let the housemaid in here with me. Maybe he hates her.

Catty stands up. “Well, I suppose I ought to get on with the sheets. Hang on.” She looks down at the hair on the ground, at the scissors in my hand, and then, finally, at me. “What are you doing?”

I sigh, embarrassed, and the embarrassment makes me angry. “Cutting my hair.”

“Honestly?” Catty doesn’t laugh. “You’ve cut it too short.”

“I know.” I didn’t know. But I guess I really shouldn’t have straightened the curls before cutting them. “It’s only a lock. I’m going to do it right now.”

Catty sighs, watching as I angrily pick out another lock of hair. I think she’s going to ignore me. Ask me to get off the bed so she can do her job. But instead, she says, “Let me do it.”

“What?” I say.

“Let me do it. I know how.”

I look at her. “Maybe I want it to look awful.” I say.

“You’re right.” Catty still holds her hands out for the scissors, and for some reason, I give them to her.

Catty sits before me and takes the lock of hair out of my grasp. I watch her eyes narrowing and her lips pursing as she focuses. I wonder why I no longer feel the urge, the hunger, to grab hold of her and kiss her. She doesn’t seem to, either. Perhaps she’s suppressing it, or perhaps she believes the girl she fell in love with is gone now, as I do. She cuts a lock of hair, her fingers and the cold metal of the scissors brushing just above my eye. I close my eyes when she orders me to, and feel her gently blowing on my face, herding away the hairs that stick to me. Thank God my hair’s still wet. I pray she can’t tell how dirty I am.

“I, um…” Catty says. I close my eyes, even though I don’t need to, and grind my teeth in anticipation of another apology. I wish she’d stop apologising. Should be me apologising to her. “I’m sorry.”

I sigh. “Knew you were going to say that.”

“Say what?”

“Say sorry.”

“Yes, well…” Catty trails off as she snips another lock of hair. “I am.”

“For what, Catty?”

“For not defending you.”

I almost smile. “Defending me?”

“Yes. From your father. I could hear… hear… everything you were saying. Doing. I heard him hurting you. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be an idiot.” I say, irritated. “You couldn’t have protected me.”

She clears her throat; when she speaks again, her voice is sarcastic. “Yes, well.” She says curtly. ”I suppose you didn’t need saving.”

“Course not.” I say. I hate that idea- the idea of being saved. Letting someone save you seems weak. I’ll never let someone help me again. If I’m falling into madness, or possession, then let me fall.

“You had it all under control?”

“Him?” I think of his hands around my throat, his boot in my stomach, the bottles and jars exploding on the walls around me. I don’t shudder. The memory injects me with life. “Yes. Of course.”

“Okay.” Catty finishes fussing her scissors around the tips of my hair. The snipped ends feel strangely sharp and scratchy on my forehead. “I’m done.”

“Great.” I shuffle back away from her. Then, as she looks at me with mild amusement, I go into the bathroom and look into the mirror. She follows me, to my irritation. “Wow.”

It looks odd. My hair’s started to dry, and the short curls don’t look quite right splayed on my forehead. The line along the top of my eyebrows isn’t straight, but straight enough as to make my face look wider. Mother was right- it doesn’t suit me at all. But it’s okay. It’ll grow back in a couple of months. Years. Maybe.

Catty catches my eye in the mirror. The way she looks at me, and the way she’s managed to make me act sane again, give away my act, curdles my blood. She doesn’t deserve it. But she’s stayed too long.

“It doesn’t look so good.” I say, fussing it with a fingertip.

Catty, instead of looking hurt, starts to laugh.

That’s all I can take. Tears fill my eyes and I wonder whether I’m even capable of holding back my emotions anymore. I feel humiliated again. That’s why I should remain alone. Why Father was right to imprison me. I don’t want this pity anymore- I don’t want prayers and I don’t want comfort and I definitely don’t want laughter, regardless of the kind. I don’t want people anymore. I’ve had enough of Catty now. Still care about her, but not enough to keep her.

“I want you to leave.” I tell her.

She stares at me in the mirror.

“Get out.” I say. “Please. Before I- I- I- lose it again.” I turn around, and she, despite herself, jumps back. I’m going to start crying. After that, she’ll believe the demon’s come up if I do so much as smile. So I do. “Get out, Catty. Get out. Get out. Get OUT!”

I start to sob, but not for sympathy. As soon as she’s stepped out, I slam the door to my bathroom and slide down it. I can’t keep up screaming- all my efforts drown in tears. I want her gone. Gone. Gone. I want the room gone and my reflection gone and my guilt gone. I want the last shreds of my emotions gone, the last of my sanity. The last time I cried in this bathroom, properly, properly cried, I passed out. I hold my breath.

 

 

Thursday. Father comes in, a few hours after I’ve woken up, just as usual. He’s surprised when he sees me, even though I’ve cut my hair, and I’m smiling suspiciously sweetly up at him.

As he comes to sit down and asks me how I’m feeling, I can tell he’s especially wary. His words drag, and he never takes his eyes off mine. I don’t drop my smile till I need to speak.

“How are you feeling, Mary-Ann?”

“Not sure.” I roll my eyes up, pretending to think. “Possibly better.”

He averts his eyes from mine and looks down at the book in his lap. He starts to read, but I can tell something’s wrong. Something’s eating at his consciousness, just as it’s eating mine. He hasn’t asked for my hands yet, either. He continues to talk, and I ignore him, but eventually interrupt him after he’s cleared his throat for the tenth of eleventh time.

“And-”

“What’s wrong, Father?”

He looks up at me, his brow furrowed. He looks angry, and I’m sure he is, but his face is forcibly angry. Like if he loses his focus his expression will loosen, spring back.

He doesn’t answer me, so I answer for him.

“I know what’s wrong.” I say, shuffling closer to him. “It’s my birthday today, Father.”

He says nothing, but he doesn’t make to start reading again, which makes a change.

“And what day does that make it, Father?”

“Be quiet.”

“I know, I know. I know that you don’t like my birthday. After all, it’s-”

“All Hallow’s Eve.”

“Yes!” I say happily.

“Curse you, demon.”

“I’m seventeen today. That’s quite exciting, isn’t it? Don’t you think so? I’ve only got three years until I’m twenty.”

I know as I say it that he’s imagining another three years of this. I don’t know why I’m acting this way. So happy. Perhaps I’m trying to scare him on purpose.

“What’s wrong, Father?” I say. “I thought you wanted me to be this way. Isn’t this how a daughter is supposed to be?”

He sighs, looking at me with a raised eyebrow. “I find it unnerving.” He says.

I smile. “Me too.”

Any desire I may have had to please him is gone. I don’t even feel any kind of amusement at his fear. I just want him gone.

“Can I come out yet?” I whine as he keeps reading. I sound like a little girl. “Please?”

“You’re not ever coming out.”

“Please?” I repeat. He glares at me, but I just hold my hands up.

“Come on, Father. It’s my birthday. All I want is to come out of this Godforsaken room, for a little while. Please?”

He strikes me, and I force myself to feel angry from it.

“Mary-Ann, you are never to leave this room. Never.” He says. “I can see today that my prayers will be fruitless, and so I’m going to go.”

“I just want to be let OUT!” I wail. “Please!”

“No!”

I wipe the anguish from my face. Lick my teeth. “He won’t be happy.” I murmur.

“What?” Father says, turning as he gets up from the bed.

“He won’t be happy.” I growl. “You know he won’t. This thing inside me- the demon. He won’t be happy about being kept up here, you know. He’ll be furious. He doesn’t like being confined, and he’s so hungry, Father.”

“You ate this morning.”

“Yes, but he’s still hungry, Father!” I snarl, forcing a smile and dipping my chin so I can look up at him through my hair. “God, is he hungry. I can feel it. It makes him stronger. You know who he’s going to blame for his hunger. When he gets angry, he’ll want to blame and hurt. You know who he’ll blame, turn on. You know whose blood he hungers for the most. Let me out! Let me out! Let him OUT! LET ME OUT!”

Father never strikes me to shut me up. I stop screaming and listen to the last of my words ringing out. Father stares at me, blank.

“See?” He says. “That’s why I can’t let you out.”

I spit on him again. He stares down at me.

“I’m calling the priest.” He says, sounding tired.

“Oh, have you given up on me that quickly?” I say viciously. “You lost faith in my pulling through this that quickly, Father? You think I’m going to die? Do you? Do you? Or are you still stuck on trying to suck this demon from me? Suck me out? Either way…” I trail off for a second. “You’re consigning me to death. Make sure you pre-order a coffin; hear the funeral directors are about to grow very busy. All those dead men in the woods. Make it extra-large or I won’t fit.” I throw myself back onto the bed. My voice still grates, and I want to laugh, but I don’t think the demon’s here.

Father looks at me. Heat rises up into my eyes, suddenly, potently, and the smirk drops from my face. I suddenly feel boiling, boiling hot, and utterly out of control- I raise my hands to my face and can’t feel anything. My face is numb. I can’t move my mouth or my eyes. Something in my head starts to whisper.

“No… no… what?” I mumble, thumbing down my cheeks as panic rises through me like steam. I look up at Father, who’s gone pale. He’s staring at me in horror. “Father?”

“Your hands.” He says. I give them to him. Then, without even opening his book- it falls to the ground as he pulls me closer to him- he starts to pray. I close my eyes and start to shake. A few minutes later, though, the hotness vanishes from my eyes and the panic vanishes from my body. I feel calm. Cool. Different.

“-and please give her the strength to come back to us-”

“You don’t want her back.” I find myself saying in that grate of a voice. “not really-”

“To follow the light of your love-”

“Love isn’t light. Love is fucking blackness. For me, anyway.”

 “Father above, hear our prayer! Please! Please!”

“Yes!” I snarl, looking up at the ceiling as my father does. “Why did you never help her, you useless layabout? LOOK what you’ve DONE to her!

“Mary-Ann.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Demon.”

“Better.”

And so, it goes on. After a while I lose my grip on speech, my words slurring and jarring in my mouth, and so I just laugh at Father as he prays. When he’s done, we stare at one another for a while. I think he realises something’s changed in me.

I spit on him again. Without hesitation, he strikes me. I grin at him. He gets up to leave and I think, just before he slams the door and rattles his key in the lock, that he smiles too.

That evening, the key turns in the lock again and Father comes in, followed closely by the priest. I’m feeling calm. So calm I could fall asleep, and I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I spent the last half-hour crying, and I can still taste the salt in my mouth. I suddenly became afraid as I realised I was no longer myself. I feel, as Father Oakley greets me in his usual way, the sudden surging, rolling rise inside me. The black wave of heat. The giddy swell of emotion. He only said hello, says the voice inside me. But coming from a Holy man that is deadlier than cyanide. And before he’s even finished his greeting, I hold my hand up to my face.

“Um…” I say, as I notice my fingers have started curling and uncurling without my permission. Then, my wrist begins to twist, my hand flapping like a sock in the wind. Limp. Numb. “Help me.”

And then, black.

I wake up the first time to a scarlet world filled with hysterical screaming. I wake up the second time to my Father and the priest attempting to hold me still. Fit. Fit. Fit. Goes my head. The third time, I wake up to the sensation of a cold flannel pressed to my head. I’m back in my bed, and the fit’s over.

I look over to the side, expecting, for whatever reason, to see Father. I can hear his voice in the other room, the words muffled, and my mind’s still in fragments. Instead, in the chair next to my bed, I see my mother.

“Hello.” Mother says simply, her voice brimming with barely-restrained emotion. I sigh and let my head roll back. No more. No more people.

“Is she awake?” another voice- another woman’s voice- says behind my head.

“Yes, she’s awake.”

“Thank goodness.” I know it’s Catty, and can’t bear to turn around.

“More water, please?” Mother asks her.

“Yes, of course.”

Mother takes the flannel from my forehead to reach across me, and fresh cold water drips in a line across my stomach as she brings the flannel back. I don’t want this fuss. Don’t deserve it. Just need to be alone. My father is somewhere else- he must be talking to the priest. I feel hot inside, and stuffy, and smoky, but on the outside I’m cold and clammy. My fingers, when I raise my hand to my face, look grey, the veins bulging and soft and pronounced.

Something has ended. Inside me, something has ended, and I fear it’s Mary-Ann.

“Please…” I say.

“Ssh.” Mother’s voice is soothing- makes me want to fall asleep again. “Don’t talk, Mary-Ann. You had a fit.”

“Don’t call me that.” I snap.

There’s a long silence. I see Mother looking over me, sharing a worried glance with Catty.

“Please leave.” I say.

“No. You have to rest.”

“Get Father.”

“He’s busy.”

“He’s the only one!” I say, my voice catching. “Please. Please. Leave me alone.”

“Mary-Ann, you had a fit. You need us to-”

“No!” I say, the mention of the name shooting more unexplainable guilt through me. “Please. Get out. Leave me alone. Leave me alone.”

There’s a long silence. When Mother sighs and gets to her feet, tears start pooling behind my eyes. I manage to hold them back till she’s murmured thank you to Catty, and pulled the door shut behind her. I sit up, ignoring the stab of dizziness, and get up from the bed. I walk across the room and brace both my hands against the window, pressing my forehead to the glass. Then, I start to weep. She’s gone. Mother’s gone and Catty’s gone. Not just from the room. They’re all nothing to me. Nothing, like they never even existed. Everything of Mary-Ann is dripping out of me. I cry harder, starting to hiccup and gulp and catch my breath as my notes jar and wobble. Over. I want this to be over. I cry harder. Harder. The first time I shriek with a sob is the first time I hear the voices in the next room stop.

There’s a pause.

And then I let my crying grow madder.

Nothing inside me tries to stop me. In fact, this feels nothing but logical. I can’t stop now. I feel addicted to the tears as they run into my mouth and my jaw lolls loose. I don’t wipe my face. I wonder if they can hear me. Not Mother and Catty. Father and the priest. After a few more minutes of weeping, I start to simply scream instead. I scream and scream and scream, taking breaths as best I can and then screaming them out. One scream is interrupted by the shrieking smash of my mirror falling from the wall in my bathroom, but I don’t stop; I just scream louder to smother the noise. Scream and scream and scream. I wonder if Father and the priest can even hear themselves over me. Wonder what they’re talking about. The demon coming out, at last. How to treat it? Contain it? Get rid of it? Kill it? Kill me? I wonder if Father’s had enough.

Half an hour later my throat’s raw from screaming, but I force myself to keep going, even though I now sound like a frog. I’m no longer hysterical- in fact, I feel I’ve reached some sort of calmness. The eye of the storm. I scream one last time, long, loud, so hard I stop breathing and have to gasp, and that’s when Father knocks open my bedroom door with a heavy brass lamp from his bedroom in his hand. I stop screaming and turn to look at him, but there’s barely time for a look to pass between us before he strikes me once over the head and my world snaps hot and black.

 

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