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

18. Agony

Sometimes, I try to see things from my father’s perspective. The moment our eyes meet in that clearing, him on his horse, me on that blood-soaked ground, I think I understand him better than I ever have before.

My father had just undergone one of the best fortnights of his entire life. He’d probably been relaxing, thinking his disgusting, overweight, infected daughter was finally dead or gone forever thanks to a group of bandits. I can understand that. That I was now, as he’d always dreamed, someone else’s problem. I can imagine the relief he’d have felt after sending that letter refusing the ransom, thinking I’d never darken his doorway again. And then, after a day or two more of idly comforting his mildly upset wife, contemplating cover stories and practicing his grieving-father face in the mirror, I came back, even worse than before. So he, naturally, still high on the joy of losing me, decided to snuff me out himself- poison my food, just as he did before I vanished, and this time stand there and watch me die, leaving me to be found by one of the maids. All of this, considering how honestly and unforgivably evil I have become, I also understand.

And I understand, too, the overwhelming wave of triumph he must have felt when the housemaid- or whoever it was he sent to check on me; I imagine it was poor Catty- ran to his study with tears in her lovely brown eyes. Assuming the monster was finally dead, he must have run upstairs with a spring in his step, only to find me gone. Gone, and an enormous pile of clothes on the lawn, betraying the fact I’d escaped. So yes, I can understand his anger.

Angrier maybe than ever before, he went back to his study, undoubtedly, and tried to decide whether he ought to arrange search parties. I, after all, had ingested multiple times the lethal dose of rat poison before jumping from the window- he knew; he’d watched me eat it- and so wherever I was, in the woods, or out by that godforsaken beach, I was surely dead. He knew his legacy had already crashed and burned and that there was no point in running back into the fire; that everything was gone, thanks to me. He wanted me dead, more than he’d ever wanted before, but for as long as I was missing, dead or alive, he’d never be able to close my case. He couldn’t involve the police, and was doubtless too embarrassed to involve the servants in the effort, not to mention worried they’d discover I’d been poisoned if they saw my body too close. And so, I completely understand why he decided to mount his horse alone and ride off to find me. Alone.

It was hilariously stupid, but understandable.

I imagine the way he must’ve cursed me to every demon yet to possess me as he rode. Wished that I was never born, and, as the hours dragged on and the air grew cold and the sky dark, that he could find me and hurt me. Again and again and again. Because we are the same, my father and I. We are sick with the desire to punish those who wrong us. And once we’ve tasted blood we cannot stop. I imagine all those days he spent out in the forest by himself. Three, or maybe four? I imagine his anger bubbling harder and harder as he tried harder and harder to suppress it and failed. I imagine his growing hysteria, desire to find my body and bury it, start again. I imagine his nervous self-assurance, the knowledge he’d complete his journey soon and then, of course, be free.

 And then, of course, on the fourth or fifth or maybe even sixth day- I don’t know how many nights I passed in that vat of blood, never somehow feeling the urge to move- he heard me laughing in the distance and oh, how his heart must’ve sunk. His anger boiled. His blood chilled. I heard him coming, see, and wanted to frighten the life out of him and mask any emotions that might’ve fallen out at our reunion. I imagine what it must’ve been like to come upon that clearing so full of blood and bodies the mud was disguised and the hellish daughter he thought he’d seen the last of in the midst of it, red all over and auburn-haired and laughing so hard she was too weak to stand up.

I’d be murderously pissed off too.

He drags me up onto his horse, but not before uttering the mandatory: “Jesus Christ.” at the sight.

“He won’t save you now.” I say.

I don’t know what to do- I’m half-mad and half-sane, and the mixture is more confusing to deal with by far than if I were wholly insane. There isn’t much about this that is funny, besides the look on his face, and the quiet, useless appeal to his God despite his shattered faith, and the way I know I’ve finally beaten him, and even his bafflement at my still being alive- Oh, God, who am I fooling? It’s hilarious. I say hello to him, but it isn’t because I’m trying to frighten him with any kind of silly act- my mind is elsewhere, namely on the state of my favourite dress. My father tells me he’s taking me home, the terror so thick in his voice I could bite it, and that if I so much as speak before he’s got me where he wants me he’ll do far worse to me than what he has planned.

I just laugh.

Because I want to.

I know, as we begin our journey back to the house, he has gone insane too. A sensible man would have left the mass-murderer in place, and probably checked the bodies. He’d have recognised his colleague Richard if he’d done so. In fact, a sensible man would never have gone out alone in the first place.

We thunder out onto the hillside soon enough, following a path I never even knew existed. The sun isn’t up yet- the moor is still drenched in grey fog- but I know it’s bound to rise soon. Somehow, I’m not afraid at the thought of burning. The look on his face would nearly make it worth it.

“Are you surprised?” I say.

“At what?” He say gruffly. I think he’s so intently focused on getting home- on doing whatever he has planned- that he’s tuning everything out. Even my blood-covered arms going around his shoulders as the horse starts galloping roughly.

“Surprised I’m alive.”

He doesn’t reply. I wasn’t expecting him to.

“Or, of course, surprised I murdered six men in that forest with nothing more than the knife you gave me to cut my poisoned dinner.” I say. “Do you want to know what I am now? What I am? What they were? And why whatever you think you have planned you will be utterly unable to hurt me?”

“I know what you are.” He says gruffly. “And I know how to kill you, too.”

My heart freezes, but I tell myself that no matter what, I will beat him.

“Oh!” I stretch out my arms, wobbling treacherously. Our house is a black dot on the horizon, the yellow rising sun framing it nicely. “Wonderful.”

My eyes are fixed on his neck. I imagine killing him right there, bowling him clean off the horse and sending us down together in the grass. I’m hoping his blood tastes a sight better than Geoffrey’s old dishwater.

Yellow sunlight starts leaking onto the hill, and as we ride right into a splash of it, I start to feel the skin of my face eating itself away. God, God, God, how it hurts. I wheeze a little, grabbing back hold of him, gritting my teeth and growling to subdue the pain.

My vision flashes black and white, but the sunlight is weak. I don’t think it’ll quite kill me before we reach the front porch. I manage not to scream, but my father turns to look back at me, and the panicked shout he gives out when he sees my half-burned face makes me laugh so hard I nearly fall off the horse.

I think I should kill him. Kill him, now he knows what I am. I get closer and closer to doing it as our destination grows on the horizon. By the time we reach the porch, and my father starts screaming for someone to open the door as he drags me off the horse and up the path, the pain in my skin has subsided. There’s a strange bubbling, prickling sensation, and slowly, with a sweet relief comparable to that I felt when I was drinking Geoffrey’s blood, my tight, anguished skin loosens. I put a hand up to my cheek. All the burns are healed.

Nobody comes to answer the door, so Father eventually swears and lets go of me to open it himself. I could run, but don’t.

It’s confusing, actually, that nobody bothered to open the door when he shouted. When it swings open, there’s a crowd of servants simply standing at the end of the hallway. Catty is the first to see me behind my father, before he shoves me forwards. She widens her eyes so far they’re nearly round, clamping her hands tight over her mouth. I think she’s close to collapsing. Mother is the second; she screams. I just grin. Then, my world explodes with blinding white as my father smacks me hard in the back of the head with the butt of his gun. I don’t faint.

One of the kitchen maids does. Smack. On the ground.

There’s a single second of silence, and then my father’s hand tightens on my wrist, squeezing harder than even Geoffrey managed, and he’s dragging me into the kitchen. I could stop him. It occurs to me now I could kill every last person in this room. Every last one of them. And God, do I want to. God, do I. I don’t. I feel paralysed. It’ll pass.

“Alice! Shut up and get me a chair.”

“Henry, I need you to lis-”

“Alice, if you dare to disobey me one more time I’ll throw YOU in WITH her!” Father bellows at her, making me look up in shock. Throw me in? Throw me in what? I see the gun in his hand, and imagine him executing me. Point-blank. BANG. Dead before the bullet plinks the ground. Or so he’ll think.

My father eventually roars with anger and leads me across the room, dragging a chair out in front of us with a hideous whining scraping sound against the tiles. He throws me down, but I don’t make so much as a whimper. It hurts, but not too much. Not enough.

“Stay there, or you’ll get a bullet between the eyes.” He hisses to me.

I look up at him through my auburn hair and say nothing.

My mother keeps screaming and screaming at him to stop as he breaks loose from me and walks towards the door, then turns back.

“Where’s some ROPE?” He screams over her.

“Henry-”

“Shut up. Will someone get me some ROPE?”

He turns back with a length of rope in his hands and strides back. Obligingly, I hold my hands out, but he strikes me, pulls my hands behind my back, and ties them together, looping the ropes around the chair. Mother’s still screaming as he starts to pace back and forth, muttering and cursing and fussing his gun in his hand.

“Who did you kill?” He says to me suddenly, seizing my shoulders and shaking me. “Whose BLOOD is this?”

I say nothing.

Father grunts with anger and kicks at the chair. I’m not really sure why I let him tie me up. I’m an idiot. He claimed to know what I am, and so it transpires that he knows how to kill me. He doesn’t know I’ve still got the knife, though, and he didn’t exactly make a rest stop in the pantry to grab more silverware. He has only his gun.

WHOSE BLOOD ARE YOU COVERED IN?” He screams, his voice trembling with hysterical anger. “WHOSE BLOOD ARE YOU COVERED IN, MARY-ANN?”

“Henry, please.” Mother sobs.

“Alice, SHUT up!” Father turns to her, his grip on the gun tightening. They forgot to close the door. Idiots. Still, the servants seem to know better than to intrude. Wonder if they’re sending for the police.

“Henry, she-”

“Get OUT, Alice!”

“She’s catatonic; she’s not going-”

“Do you SEE her, Alice? Do you SEE your daughter now? Do you see-”

“Yes, yes; I see, I SEE, Henry!” She weeps. I want to look up and challenge them. I need to know why the hell Mother still wants to protect me. “But we won’t achieve anything if we keep YELLING at her like this! We have to fetch the police!”

“No police, Alice.”

“Why the hell NOT?”

“Because they’ll come for ME, you stupid woman! ME!”

“For God’s sake, why?”

She screams and I look up slightly as he turns to her, gun in hand. She doesn’t try to speak again. God, I hate him. I hate her. I hate everyone in this house. Could surge up whilst his back’s turned and destroy him as I did Geoffrey.

“Just kill me, Father.” I murmur, my head still dropped to my knees.

“Mary-Ann, you have to tell me what you’ve done! What’s happening?” Father’s on the verge of tears. I’ve never seen him like this before and despite everything, it’s a little terrifying. I’m wickeder than him now. A million times wickeder. I am the evil and he is my vanquisher. He is, for once, doing the right thing.

He kneels down next to me. “Whose blood is this?”

I stay silent. I won’t speak. I don’t even know if I can.

“Whose blood is it, Mary-Ann?”

I stay silent.

There’s a long pause. Perhaps he’s going to leave me alone now. Or shoot me.

“How long have you been like this, Mary-Ann?” He asks me suddenly.

Like this? What the hell does he mean? Does he mean a vampire? Three days. Does he mean bloodthirsty? Five months. Does he mean evil? Always, always, always.

“Come on, witch.” He growls, startling me to look at him.

I splutter with laughter. “What… what… witch?”

“Yes, witch. Whore of Satan. I told you I knew what you were. I was foolish, all this time, to believe it was only a demon. Tell me how long you’ve been practicing black magic.”

Mother squeaks from behind him: “Black magic? Henry, are you-”

Yes, woman, we agreed she was in league with the Devil; this isn’t much further to stretch our minds, now is it?”

“She was never in league with the Devil, Henry; she’s our daughter!”

“She is not our daughter.” Father grabs hold of Mother’s arm and drags her forwards, shoving her closer to me. He puts one hand in her hair and forces her to look up at me. “Look at it. Look at her. Look at this. This is not our daughter. She never was.”

Mother says nothing. I break the small eye contact I had. Then, Mother mutters: “She was once.”

Father curses under his breath, tightens his grip on her, and pushes her behind him. She gives a yelp and then bows her head in silence.

My father stares at me for a few seconds. I don’t look at him; I look through him, my eyes unfocused, feeling his gaze on my blood-scribbled face.

“Mary-Ann,” He says softly. I resist the urge to look up at him. “If no longer a demon, then you are a witch.”

No, I am not, I almost say inside my head; I am a vampire. I want to bare my teeth at him, but don’t. The crawling in my gums has begun again. Why the hell does he think I’m a witch? Oh, I know why. It’s because he saw my skin boiling off and then healing, and because I ingested half a pound of rat-poison and lived. The dark dress is probably a clue, as were those men’s black cloaks, as was the fact that I, a lone woman, killed so many males. I’m wildly entertained, for a moment, by the idea of Mary-Ann the witch. Mumbling spells in Latin. Turning into animals. Carving symbols into her flesh with a knife. Cursing people. Dancing naked around raging fires. It doesn’t excite me as Mary-Ann the vampire does, as the truth does, as the idea of killing people simply to eat does. Perhaps it is Father’s blindness that amuses me so. A witch. For God’s sake.

Suddenly, my vision flashes blindingly white as Father drives the butt of the gun into my temple, snapping my head sideways. I grit my teeth and hiss, which only makes the crackling pain worse.

TALK to me!” Father screams over Mother’s protests. I yelp and hold my mouth wide open as he hits me with the gun again, on the other side. My head floods with heavy agony, but I stretch my neck, finally looking up at the both of them.

I say nothing.

TALK!” Father grabs me by the front of my dress and drags me onto my feet, chair and all- a flash of hunger runs through me then, making me moan and only stop when he smacks the gun directly into my nose. Something cracks and starts to leak blood. My mouth smarts and tingles like it’s on fire. He hits again, and again, till my face is a bloody mess and my nose a mashed wreck and my head a blazing inferno of fury, shouting over and over again at me to speak to him, to tell him this and that, to stop pretending. Then, he’s forced to stop as Mother throws herself onto his back, screaming like a madwoman herself.

“Henry, STOP!”

“Get off me!”

“Stop hurting my daughter!” She sobs as she’s thrown off.

“She’s NOT your daughter!”

“She IS!”

He turns to her. When he speaks again, his voice is softer. “Alice, damn you, I’m doing this to protect you.”

She says nothing for a couple of seconds. Suddenly, I grit my teeth hard and force my head further down as the smashed pieces of my nose begin to worm back into place. Crack-crack-crack, each little blip of movement shooting knives up through my head, making me lock my jaw.

“Mary-Ann.” Father turns back to me. “I’m going to kill you.”

There’s silence.

“I am.” He says. “I’m going to kill you. I may be your father, but I won’t show you mercy. Tell me everything. Now. Or I will kill you.”

I say nothing.

After a few more seconds of silence, Father grunts and holds the gun up. It clicks as it comes to rest right between my eyes.

Still, nothing. I stare up at him. If he notices my nose has healed, he says nothing. I don’t bother to stem the flow of blood as it leaks into my mouth.

“Come out.” He says softly. “Come out of there.”

I bare my teeth at him. Even though I deserve it, and want it, I can’t believe he would dare. Not to kill me- I know he would do it in a heartbeat and furthermore has tried a million times- but to kill me in front of everyone. I suppose he’s gone mad enough to no longer care about others. He’s obsessed. He’s obsessed with me.

“Henry.” Mother says softly. She steps to Father’s side.

Father ignores her, still staring at me. At my mouth? My teeth?

Then, she takes his arm and tries to push it down, lowering the gun from my head. He doesn’t budge it, but when he shakes his arm to fling her off, the movement is feeble.

“Henry.” She repeats. He finally looks at her, breaking our gaze. “Let me try.”

I can’t help but widen my eyes slightly at her words. Let me try.

“Try to do what?” He hisses.

“Bring her out. Please. I can.” You can’t. “Please, Henry, lower the gun. Let me speak to her.”

Father doesn’t move.

“Lower it, Henry, please!”

Still nothing.

“Mary-Ann, darling.” Mother kneels in front of me, one hand on the arm of my chair, and pauses for a moment in reluctant disgust before pushing my blood-stiff hair back from my face. I don’t move. “Come out. Come out. You have to tell us what happened; please.”

I wonder why she’s come around now. Now it’s too late for any of us.

“I beg you, Mary-Ann. Whatever’s happened to you- whatever’s taken you, whatever’s consumed you, you have to reach through it. Come back to me.”

I say nothing. Nothing’s consumed me but joy. Nothing’s taken me; I’m still me- this is what I want. I’m Mary-Ann. Just none of the versions of Mary-Ann you want me to be.

“You have to fight it, darling. Please. Please, or there’s no telling what your father will do. Please. Please. Save yourself. I beg you!” She starts to sob. “Please! Fight it!”

Fight it? That’s rich, coming from you, Mother. You never fought a day in your life. You never fought for Owen, or for Florrie or Lula, or for yourself, or for me. Besides, I don’t want to fight it. It’s delicious and wicked and I adore it; I’ve never been more delighted, and I plan to delight myself further still, just as soon as I’ve finished indulging your ridiculous games.

“Just…” She sniffs. I feel my father’s disdain as clearly as my own. “Remember… that I… love you. I love you, darling. And your… your father loves you.”

Something in my voice tells me she’s not talking about the father standing behind her, holding the gun to my head.

I don’t speak a word to her, not even to tell her to give up. This happened to me… this happened to me because I wanted it, but I wanted it because I had nothing else to want- because I’d been so abandoned by everyone around me. They can all burn in hell for all I care. Pay for my sins as I continue to pile more on their heads.

Mother continues to plead with me, her voice getting higher. I feel Father’s gun starting to slip out of place, and, as he tightens his grip on his wife’s shoulder, he drops it back to his side.

I wonder what being shot in the head feels like.

“Alice, darling.” Father says, his voice soft. “Get up.”

“But… but I…” She mumbles.

“Give up. She’s not in there. You know she isn’t in there.”

Mother stares up at me. At my blank red-and-white face, my lifeless eyes dark with all their lust and hunger. Then, she crumples into sobs, getting to her feet and running into her husband’s arms. He wobbles on his feet as she wraps him into a hug and shakes with sobs on his shoulder.

“I know. I know. I know.” She murmurs to him. “I know.”

“I know.” He says back. As my head drops back to my lap, I start to crave freedom, but still don’t move. They still need to find some way of finding out what I’ve done, what I am. They need to kill me. Do their best.

A shadow darkens the doorway.

“Let me talk to her.” A girl’s voice says.

For the first time, I have to physically bite back my words. No. No. No, you stupid girl. My parents turn to look at Catty as she slowly walks into the room. I should have known she’d be listening at the door. I should have known she’d be the last person to give up on me- to give up on my goodness- and I should have known she was too naïve to leave me be.

I wait for my father to bat her away.

But then, I look up a little through my hair and see both my parents staring at her blankly. Father’s eyes betray a little smidge of emotion that turns my stomach. Suspicion.

“What did you say, girl?” He says softly.

“Let me talk to her.” Catty says, her voice gruff with fear as her eyes dart down to me. “Alone. Please.”

“You’re useless.”

“No.” She says, her voice wobbling. “I- I’m not.”

There’s a long pause. The feeble worry in my head gives up. I’ve had enough of these people- of their childish hope, their naiveite to think that nobody could truly want to be evil. Catty’s going to give up our secret just for a chance of bringing me back. That isn’t my fault. If she wants to doom herself, let her.

“Five minutes.” My father says.

I force my head back down to my lap as their footsteps sprinkle the tiles. Mother gives a high, short sob, and Father mutters something to her, right before the door closes. I keep my eyes fixed on my lap, but just as I have so many times before, I feel Catty’s eyes on me. All over me. She in the doorway and me in the centre, drenched in my guilt.

She doesn’t walk forwards.

“God, Mary-Ann.” She says. “My God. My God.”

I say nothing. I realise, as she stands there, how hungry I am. My mouth aches more than the rest of my head, even after being beaten with the gun. I feel empty again, and sadistic thoughts whisper in my ears from, making me feel hot.

“Look what you did to yourself. Look what your greed, your addiction, your obsession did to you.”

I want to growl. How dare she? How dare she… how dare she… blame me?

“I should’ve looked out for you.” Her voice gets louder, in rhythm with her footsteps, as she starts walking towards me. “Should’ve done more. Should have, but didn’t, and look what you did to yourself.” She kneels next to my chair, looking right up into my eyes, and then suddenly squeaks with a sob. “Look what that monster’s done to you.”

What does she mean? Does she mean my father? The demon? Or me? How dare she?

“I love you.” She says. “I don’t know who it was that duped me, or whether I was duped at all. But I love you. I love the girl who fell off her horse in front of my farm, the girl who eats too much, the girl who asked to kiss me the first time in that pantry.” God, shut up; shut up; shut UP! “And I want- I want… I want that to mean that I don’t love you anymore, since you’ve so clearly changed since then. All I know… All I know… is that no matter what you’ve done, who you really are, what’s wrong with you, I still love you. I want you to come out of that head, however you are now. Please. We all need you.” She sobs and sniffs again. “We all need you. Please, Mary-Ann. You can save us all.”

And that is why I will say nothing.

Then, to my immense confusion, I feel Catty’s arms going around my waist, finding my tied hands, and starting to fumble.

I jerk my head up at her.

She’s untying me.

She sees me looking at her, and looks away. “I’m getting you out.” She says. “I have to. I need you. Mary-Ann… I don’t care. I don’t care anymore. I tried to teach you to beat your addiction, and I failed, but, you know, you taught me things too. You taught me not to be afraid anymore. That it’s not wrong to want. You taught me that some things are okay, even if the world tells you they’re wrong! You taught me… you taught me… to love. I don’t know. God, I don’t know!” She starts to cry, perhaps realising in her very depths she can’t break me. “I love you, Mary-Ann. I want to be with you, for who you are, not giving a damn what society might think of us!” But I do not love you, you stupid girl. I never did. Just hate me already, please. Stop untying me. I can’t make you happy.

She finishes with my ropes, and dumps them to the ground.

I don’t get up.

“We have to go.” Catty says. “Through the window. Hurry.”

I still don’t move.

“I know… Mary-Ann, I know.” She says. “You’ve truly ruined this. You have. Whatever you’ve done… you ruined yourself. But I know there’s still good in you. I know. I can fix you.”

There’s a long silence, during which I roll her last sentence over and over in my head.

I try not to growl.

I wait, as she does. I think she’s going to kiss me. I recognise the warm, slightly choked sweetness in her voice. Don’t do it. Please, please don’t do it.

But she does. She’s a fantasist, after all. She thinks everything’s going to work out fine as long as there’s love. Despite the blood on my face, she presses her lips to mine with vicious strength, reaching up to push my hair out of my eyes. Then, she clamps her hands onto my arms and slowly begins dragging me to my feet. Even though I don’t have any intention of leaving with her, I get up. The warmth that bubbles through me isn’t sweet and loving like hers. It’s wicked and selfish and triumphant. After everything I did to her, after everything I said to her, and after everything I did to everyone else, she… still… wants me. I don’t want her, but she wants me; she’s mine. I have her under my thumb. She must fear by now that my father will come back- that we’ll get caught before we can leave- that he’ll kill me. And yet, she doesn’t care. She’s so stuck on me she’d rather be dragged down with me.

“He’s coming.” Catty murmurs to herself, loosening her grip and stepping back as footsteps approach the door. There’s a moment of separation. I lick my lips, relishing her weakness.

And then, as my father kicks the door open, I surge forwards and kiss her again. Harder. Hungrily. I giggle as I break loose, and as my mother and father gasp. Catty stares at me, her eyes wide with horror, her hand to her bloody mouth.

“Oh.” My Father says, letting go of Mother as he takes us in. “My, God. I knew it. I knew it.”

I walk back and dump myself back in my seat, the painful grin dying on my lips. Father walks forwards, and Catty gives nothing but a tiny whimper as he seizes hold of her and drags her away from me. No. My head says, once. I could stop him; I know he’s not thinking straight and I know he’s still got the gun and I know I’m fast enough to jump out of my seat and grab him and force him to let her go if I wanted to. I know I could. But that would be heroism. And despite what Catty St Clair may have said, I’m all out of good.

I’m glad neither of us scream as Father walks to the door and shuts it on Mother. I’m glad that I don’t scream, even as he throws Catty to the ground and points the gun, and even when it goes BANG-plink, and the room floods with ugly electric silence. I want to, but I don’t.

She was stupid enough to love me.

Die for me.

The sobs well up and well up in me, but I bite them back, hard as I can. She’s gone. She’s gone. The pressure inside my head grows unbearable.

Suddenly, Father is right over me, and the gun clicks as he points it back at my head. I know how he’s feeling right now. I know there’s a sick, sharp acid coursing through his veins- the rush from having killed. And he wants to do it again. And again, and again. Bang-plink. Bang-plink. Bang-plink. Troubles gone.

There are a couple of seconds of silence. I’m starting to sicken of silence, and to thirst for freedom, to be gone from this room, this house, this life. Enough now. That’s what I’m thinking, and what I’m sure my father is thinking too. From the other side of the door, there’s a high sob.

“SHUT UP!” Father suddenly screams, making me jump.

“Don’t hurt her! Don’t hurt my daughter!”

“SHUT UP!”

Mother never walks in, which doesn’t surprise me.

Father looks at me, his mouth trembling, for a couple more seconds. Inside me, there’s a pressure building and building- a pressure of hunger and madness and laughter and grief and agony- and it’s boiling my skin. There’s so much I want to say to him, and yet never will. So much relief neither of us deserve. He walks behind me, and the gun presses into the back of my head. Yes; that’s right. Do it from behind. Don’t bother to look into my eyes, coward. There’s a hissing behind us, like gas. It’s now, as I feel my eyes and my lips and my chest flooding with heat, that I realise the demon may not be gone. Perhaps I am not just one of the many things I have been accused of being over the years, but all. If I scream loud enough, maybe I could start a fire.

The gun presses harder into me, and twists, like Father’s trying to turn away. Then, I hear him saying close to my ear:

“You brought this on yourself, Mary-Ann.”

I turn and smile at him, even though I never want to smile again.

“I know.”

He straightens, but doesn’t leave my side. He mumbles something to himself, as he looks not at me but at the door- or perhaps at the body on the ground- and though I can’t hear him, I can read his lips. And he shall smite the wicked, and plunge them into the fiery pit.

He looks at me. I raise an eyebrow.

Then, to my shock, the gun lets up from my head and he walks away from me. Steps over poor Catty, opens the door, leaves the room. Shuts the door behind him.

There’s a rising flurry of shouting. Or maybe that’s just me. I hear my father shouting back, and then: BANG-plink. There’s a scream. I have to look away from the door, because I can see Catty when I do that, and I can’t bear it, can’t bear it, can’t. Oh, God. The girl was supposed to leave me. Supposed to give up on me. Supposed to loathe me. Supposed to get away before any of this could happen. Did I know… did I know this was going to happen? Yes. Did I want it? Only for me.

I close my eyes and feel the hunger. The anger. Everything, everything, everything; it’s all boiling over, coming to me after all this time. I feel everything in a split-second. I’m a girl who was born to a sinful mother and an insane father. I was raised to believe I was evil and so evil I became. I let religion chew me up and spit me back out and I let darkness infect me and cling to my every pore. It was not put there by my Father or my Mother or Owen or the Devil or God. Neither was the greed, the hunger, the desire to disobey. I let it in. Let it eat me alive. I tried to resist and failed; I can only give in. I tried to love and failed; I can only hate.

It builds in me. It comes up through my stomach and through my aching chest and into my throat; it collects in my mouth and I chew it, but it’s too huge to swallow. Too hot, too- it burns and burns and burns.

I scream.

And when I scream, there’s a pop behind me, a burst of ugly warmth, and I turn to see fire crawling up the wall.

I scream again, and again, as the fire grows. The heat is hysterical and sharper than a blade; the smoke forces its way inside me. I scream and scream and scream till the lurid flames spill from the ceiling and start creeping along the floor towards me. A ceiling-beam collapses onto a counter- this room is all wood, soft and destructible as paper. I am destructible too, which I find out as the flames crawl up my chair and my skirt and my legs. God, as it spreads over me, how it eats me! I stop screaming to huff and wheeze through my teeth, trying to contain the pain rather than to fight it. It feels right, in some sick way. I know this will not kill me. I may burn and I may wither and I may die, but I will come back. If God is real, I will come back cleansed. And if he is not, the creature that stitches itself back together from these ashes will be made of nothing but evil.

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