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. If you're sensitive to anything of this nature, I'd recommend giving this story a miss, but if it sounds like your jam, I hope you enjoy! Jem :)
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10. Cruelty

Urging my horse to run faster and faster along the beach, I, for the first time, dare to let go of the reins and grip with only my legs. I wobble, but as an image of my pitching off the horse and landing on my head and being dead just like that flashes through my head, I urge the horse faster still and straighten. I hold my arms out to either side. I don’t want to die, but I want to slip out of existence, I think. And if I were to die here I wouldn’t be able to help it. One- I wobble. Two- I fall. Three- I die. My nightmare over, and Father’s, and Mother’s, and Elias’, and Catty’s, and Father Oakley’s. Simple, like the snap of a finger.

The wind presses against my face, pushing me back to my house, where Elias might already be waiting for me. It yanked my hair out of its bun long ago- I imagine it streaming out behind me along with my skirts. I imagine that I look beautiful, even though I know my face must be stained bright red by the stinging cold and I’m oddly upright in the saddle, astride, my arms rigid at my sides.

I know I need to go back.

I know that if Elias isn’t there already, he will likely be arriving soon.

Elias deserves none of this- he’s a sweet boy, and an excellent match for any girl who could love him. I know that I’ll endure a beating if I avoid him on purpose, and I know it’ll be hard enough to make me unable to sleep tonight.

But still I don’t turn the horse around.

I’m afraid. I’m afraid. The minute I walk back through that door and lay eyes on Elias is the moment I consent to be married. The moment I tell my father you’ve won. The moment I say goodbye to Catty, to Mother- however little I see of her- and to Father. The sand around me shines like silver, reflecting the sunlight that oozes from the heavy clouds. I ride past jetty after jetty. I ride, after another ten minutes, past the jetty that’s shorter than the others. Broken off at the edge that reaches into the sea. When I see it I lean down and wrap my arms around the horse’s neck. I don’t know why. It doesn’t make me feel sad, or afraid. It doesn’t remind me of Duncan or of my father’s old plots against me. But I feel as though it should, and so I act as though it does.

After a few minutes, I take hold of the reins again and urge the horse to slow down a little. There is always some moment, whenever I force him to run faster and faster and faster and faster, I suddenly realise how fast he’s going and explode with fear and want him to stop. I love him- he’s probably the thing I love most in the world. The only thing I love. The last. He knows me, and trusts me, and I trust him. He doesn’t care whether the thing on his back wearing my body is really me, or whether it’s a demon in my skin. He doesn’t care about the social customs and the hearts and the plans I’m breaking. I wonder how long I could survive out on this beach with nothing but my horse. A day? Two? My father and his colleagues used to be exceptionally good at finding me and getting me home whenever I used to try running away. I haven’t tried since I was fourteen. Maybe I should try again.

I think, as I continue to ride, that by running away I’ll be leaving Catty behind. The thought keeps me slow for a couple more minutes. Then, though, I look up to the cliffs and see her house- or, rather, the chimney- with the woodsmoke pulling out in a thin string. Those days, when we used to meet on my morning rides, seem like ancient memories. The girl I met there, with her red boots and funny grins and messy hair, seems like a completely different girl from the jittery housemaid I spend my nights with in the pantry. Catty’s new job- my father, or perhaps even me- has washed the life from her.

Guiltily, as I look up at that house and imagine her father sitting inside, running his fingers over the envelopes of money she’s sent him, I imagine what could have happened if she’d never applied for the job. If she’d stayed, out here, sequestered on the cliff edge, there for me on Saturday mornings. I wonder what we could have become if I’d been able to keep her at arm’s length. We may not have grown close at all, or we might have been allowed to grow close in our own time. That farmhouse could have become an unreachable haven for our affair. Instead, because her father needed money to make penance for a habit, we grew far too close far too quickly and I think it ruined us forever.

Not that I don’t love our nights in the pantry. I just wish she were somebody else- somebody I would feel better about treating the way I treat her. Someone who wouldn’t have been so stupid as to fall in love with me. Someone I could’ve used without regret. Someone I could’ve quenched my insatiable lust on. Then, I could have saved my love for the chirpy farm girl with the red boots.

But she’s gone now. Like a breeze.

I keep riding. Elias arranged to come for lunch- a late lunch. I left at nine in the morning- must be two or three in the afternoon now. A very late lunch, it’ll have to be. I urge the horse faster, tears coming into my eyes as I realise the decision I’m making. Why the hell is he still willing to marry me? I’m unrefined, overweight, unskilled and rude, and may or may not be possessed by Satan. Public love’s based on nothing more than the facades we wear for the sake of other people- it can’t be allowed to slowly develop in private. That’s why my parents’ marriage failed- because my father was all sweet on the outside and all sour on the inside. He and I, I suppose, have that in common, though I’m sour all the way through.

I’m not going to marry Elias. I don’t care whether he’s the nicest boy on earth, whether we could make each other happy. Whether he’s different in private, whether he’s fallen in love with my quirks and whether, given time, I might fall in love with his. I don’t care whether my fairytale happily-ever-after’s waiting for me in that lunch-room. Because for as long as Elias Garvey has my father’s blessing I will not marry him. As we thunder along the beach, I cling to the reins, the wind, the sky, knowing that I’m planning to get as lost as I can. I don’t care who I worry. I don’t care who I hurt. I don’t care who I enrage. If I end up going back- regardless of how long I take, how dark it is- there will be consequences. I can run from them for now, for hours, but they will find me eventually and they will catch me and knock me down. Wobble. Fall. Die.

This is my final burst of freedom.

 

 

I have never before experienced the self-absorbed urge to throw open the heavy front door and announce my return proudly on returning from a ride. I suppose it’s because it’s dusk.

The rattling SLAM of the door against the polished wood panelling of the wall alerts the whole house I’ve returned, and Father is there within a second.

“Father.” I say, seeing myself in my mind’s eye- twigs in my hair, mud seeped up my dress to the knee, scratches criss-crossing my face. I ended up riding to the end of the beach and going into the forest instead. Only turned back when it began to get dark and I started fearing I’d get lost for real. Father grabs my arm. “I, um… got lost.”

“I don’t believe you for a second and you know it.” He hisses to me. I look up at him, and before I know what’s seized me, I scowl back at him. “He was just about to leave, for God’s sake.”

“Mary-Ann!” Mother says, emerging from the room. She runs to me, but when she sees my state and the way I’m glaring at Father, she stops short of embracing me. “Oh, we were…”

“Wait. Elias, he’s…” I stare at Father, my heart kicking. “He’s still here?”

“Yes, and we must ask him if he’ll stay for a few more minutes, whilst we clean you up.” Father digs his fingertips deeper into my arm but, knowing it’ll scare him into letting go, I snarl through my teeth. “You dirty disgusting pig.” He says.

“Oh, I’m worse than a pig.” I say. Then, I jerk my head up as Elias comes out into the corridor.

“Oh, hello, Miss Lansfield.” He says with a shy smile. For whatever reason, I suddenly feel over-conscious of the way I look, and drop the scowl from my face. I find myself smiling a little too.

“Hello.” I say.

“Elias, I am…” Father lets go of my arm and turns away, towards Elias. “We are… so sorry for her state. For her… for-”

“It’s quite all right.” Elias smiles at me. I don’t quite smile back. “I’m sure she didn’t mean any disrespect.”

“I was lost.” I say, my cheeks burning.

“Go and put on your proper dress.” Father says to me, his voice hard. I stare up at him, my defiance waning.

“Oh, don’t worry about it.” Elias says. “I suppose I’ll be needed back home quite soon, anyway. I’d like to spend as much time getting to know your daughter as I can. If I may, Mr Lansfield?”

Father smiles slightly, out of Elias’ view. I know he can’t believe his luck, at finding a man for me this forgiving. This kind. This stupid.

“Of… of course.” Father says. “Go on, Mary-Ann.”

I realise then that I’m going to be left alone with him. I don’t know why I suddenly feel unsafe.

I smile tiredly. “Yes, very well.” I walk over to the breakfast-room, over-conscious of Elias eyes on me. He’s just looking at the mud, I tell myself. He smiles at me as he closes the door on us, and I smile back.

I will not marry him.

“I trust you feel better?” He asks me, as we sit side-by-side on one of the sofas. I blink at him for a couple of seconds; then, I realise what he’s referring to.

I look at him strangely. “Yes, thank you.” I lie. The urge had been to grin wickedly and do something along the lines of whispering Hail Satan under my breath. But something in me’s making me speak to him.

I will not marry him.

“I’m glad to hear it. You took quite a turn there, Mary-Ann.”

There it is again- that nervous smile. I’m confused that he’s not dodging the subject- he and I both know what happened to me in that room, and it appears he’s a straight talker. They are exceptionally rare.

“Yes, I suppose I did. I won’t lie to you. I was deathly afraid.” I say.

He laughs again, looking me in the eyes this time. “I think we all were, honestly. But it wasn’t your fault. Not in the slightest. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

“Thank you.” I’m not okay. Oh, God, boy, run whilst you still can.

I wonder whether his account of what happened may differ slightly from Father’s.

“So, I was a little curious, I must confess,” Elias says to me. “Whilst you were out, your mother told me you played the piano.”

I laugh at this. Then, I shut myself up.

“Why would you find that surprising?” I tease.

“Well, you…” He suddenly begins to struggle and I watch him, a grin forming on my face. “You didn’t…”

“Seem like the kind of girl who played the piano?” I finish for him. He looks at me in surprise. “What? I’ll say it if you won’t. I suppose the one thing you learnt about me the other night is I don’t hide what I’m thinking.”

“Yes.” He says. “Of course.”

I denounced the marriage even then. And yet, he’s still here, talking to me like a human being. I appreciate that, even though no amount of talking to him could change my mind.

It won’t.

“So.” I say, to distract myself from his hand, which I notice is slowly crawling the space between us. I move my hands into my lap. “What sort of hobbies did you think I might have?”

He looks at me. Then, he smiles again. I wonder whether he has any other emotions. Whether all his years in a life as rich as mine, with a father like his, has sucked everything from him but happiness and complicity.

“Oh, drawing, I suppose.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Drawing?”

“Yes. You seem pretty, um…” It happens for the first time then. His eyes flick down me, and then back up again. “Creative.”

I ignore the gesture. “The last time I tried to draw, I was six.”

He laughs. “Oh, really?”

“Yes.”

“What did you draw?”

Ghosts and vampires, I think. “A cat.” I say.

“And?”

“Well, it looked rather like a pancake.”

He laughs. “Okay, very well. So I was wrong about the drawing. Never mind- you could learn if you wanted, I’m sure.”

“Yes. Although I doubt I ever will. I found it rather too stressful.”

“At six?”

“Yes. My six-year-old life was embroiled in stress. Let’s just say I don’t have a lot of skills, shall we?” Nerves start creeping into my voice. For once, I don’t want them. He doesn’t deserve them. “I embroider, but I end up bleeding. I sing, but I end up screaming. And I think if I tried to dance the ground would open up around me.” I giggle. I know the giggle’s fake, but I couldn’t stop it coming out.

“Well…” Elias struggles. “I suppose you… ride a fair amount.”

For some reason, a tiny prick of anger jumps in my chest. But I say nothing- I just look down at my muddy skirts, push my bedraggled hair back behind my shoulders.

“Yes.” I say.

“Do you… enjoy riding, Mary-Ann?”

Or do you just do it to get away from things? I know that’s the correct ending to his question. Do you just ride to pretend you’re free? To get away from your responsibilities? To let your hair loose in the wind, pretend, desperately pretend, that you’ve still got some shred of freedom when you haven’t? When you will soon belong to me?

“Yes.” I say simply.

He smiles. I’m conscious of the location of his hand, still- mine are still clamped into my lap, and he’s taken his into his lap, but then, he gets up and makes a show of sitting down closer to me.

“Although.” I say, to distract us both. “I’m not very good at it, as you can see. I always end up dirty.” I resist the urge to shuffle away from him, suddenly afraid for no rational reason. I know this all too well- learned it from Catty- one touch and I’m through. I try desperately to say something that’ll slow him down. “You are here because you want to marry me, Elias. But I’m an unrefined, unskilled girl who can’t stop getting herself dirty. I’m sure you deserve better.”

“Don’t be silly.” Suddenly, Elias reaches into my lap and takes my hand. I start, but he takes it gently, laying our clasped hands onto the sofa-cushion. I forgot public love was this restrained. I want to tear myself away, but for whatever reason, I don’t.

Then, he gently reaches over and tucks a strand of my hair behind my ear. I don’t move, but I keep eye contact, and for some reason, I don’t scowl. I smile and blush.

Damn it.

He really is the best option, isn’t he? I really am lucky, aren’t I?

“All of these things about you, Mary-Ann…” Elias says softly, stroking his fingers down my arm. “You mustn’t fear. Because they can be fixed.”

I look up at him in surprise, eyebrows raised.

“Fixed?” I ask.

“Why, yes.” And there it is again- his gaze flickering over my body before landing back on my eyes. “You mustn’t think you’re unfixable, Mary-Ann. You’re not a hopeless case, as your father thinks.”

I suddenly realise that he’s talking of more than my demeanour when he speaks of fixing me. He may have denounced my father, but he no longer has my trust. I see him glancing over my body again and this time, when his gaze comes back to mine, I fix him with a glare.

“You’re speaking of my weight, aren’t you?” I say.

His innocent brown eyes fill with worry. “What?”

Not even now does he get confrontational. Wonder how far I can wind him up. Or whether he’ll let me talk him into a corner. Out the door. Thank God he said something compromising before I fell under his damn spell.

“When you talk of fixing me,” I say. “As though I’m an old shoe that needs a bit of polish before you can show me off. You’re not referring to the way I act or the things I can do. You’re speaking of my weight, aren’t you?”

He presses his lips together. “Mary-Ann, you’re beautiful despite your weight. And if you were only to lose it you’d be the most beautiful girl in England.”

“Why must I lose it? Is an overweight woman ugly till proven beautiful?”

He looks at me with surprise. “Why, yes. But-”

“Why does my weight make me ugly? It’s not hiding my face. It’s not hiding my hair. It’s not hiding anything about me but my body.”

“Well, yes. But-”

“Elias, you were doing so well.” I say.

Was what he said really so different from what Catty said to me that night in the pantry? To me, yes. Catty told me I was overweight and beautiful; Elias may have only changed the connective, but he has ruined any chance of having me he may have still had. I realise now why he came back, after what he saw at dinner. Not only is he willing to fix me up into the perfect wife; he wants to. I can see the smugness in his eyes. He wants the satisfaction. Wants to be known to the town as the man that finally made a lady out of Mary-Ann Lansfield. I bet he’d heard stories about me before he ever came to dinner, and couldn’t have been more damn excited when I proved them all true. He sees me as worse than a commodity. He sees me as an empty doll to be moulded and changed to his liking. He sees me as a project.

He may do it nicely. I have no doubt, in fact, that if he were to make a lady out of me I would be grateful at his finishing. After I have been tamed, after all, I will see no reason to rebel. And still, I will not marry him. He may be the kindest boy I could have hoped for and the best option I have left, but still I will not. My demeanour will remain, and it will remain as a burden on my father.

I have tired of Elias.

“What do you mean, I was doing well?” He says.

“I mean.” I say with a bitter laugh. “You were very close to convincing me to come with you. Very close, Elias. But you dropped your intentions on the way out. Why? Why not wait until we were married? Then, you’d own me. You’d have my money and my body and my pretty face, to use however you pleased. Would you not?”

He blinks. “I would never-”

“I know. I know.” I say. “I know you fancy yourself too nice- fancy yourself a philanthropist. I don’t doubt you think you’re doing the right thing. Here’s the only problem.” I lean in closer to him, realising as I do that he’s still holding my hand, and neither of us are letting go. “If you were to make a respectable lady out of me, Elias, you’d be the toast of town. Toast of the country. I’m sure your father told you as much, didn’t he? As he was trying to convince you to marry me.”

At this point, Elias interrupts. “Father didn’t want me to come back.”

I look at him. “What?”

“He didn’t want me to come back, after what happened at dinner, but-”

I freeze for a second, but only a second. “Fine.” I say. “You decided on your own. Took pity on me.”

“I didn’t take pity on you.”

“Elias, you did.” I say. “You’re right- there’s nothing desirable about me whatsoever besides my money and my potential. And I’ll say again, just in time you didn’t tell yourself enough times- the man who manages to tame me will be the most revered man on earth. And now, I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you all the things you’d have to find a way to fix.” I feel his grip on my hand loosening. “You know the reason I’m overweight? It’s because I’m afflicted with insatiable hunger. I believe it’s an illness. Father does not. The one thing I do know is that if we two were to share a house you’d have to hide the food from me. And hide it all. When I frenzy there is nothing I won’t eat. Go into the pantry, and the kitchen, and you’ll find all the cupboards bolted shut. That’s why. To keep me out. I’m vermin.” I grin again. “Another problem? I have no romantic attraction. None. So I’d never be the type of girl to swoon in your arms, even if you managed to find a way to shut me up. Well, that’s not quite true, I suppose.” I say. “There are certain people I’d swoon for. You’re not one of them. I’m sorry, Elias. You seem to genuinely think you’re a nice person. And I’m sure you are, somewhere in there. But I could never love you, because I am most certainly not a nice person. I’m wicked to the core. Need proof? Ask my father. He believes me to be possessed by the Devil.”

I sneer as Elias’ eyes prick with fear.

“What?” He says.

“The Devil. Father believes I’m possessed. In fact, he believes Mary-Ann Lansfield left this body at dinner that night. He believes all my words are someone else’s. He believes my body’s filled with evil. And before that, that I was the daughter of the Devil. See my hair?” I pull a lock in front of my face. “Doesn’t exactly match my parents’, does it? It’s only the right colour when it’s drenched in blood. It’s true what they say- whoever’s daughter I am, I am not my parents’ daughter.”

He lets go of my hand.

“Did Father neglect to mention that to you?” I say. “That you wouldn’t be marrying a woman at all, but a demon in a woman’s skin? I’m more than confident he left it out. Your father was smart enough to know it. You weren’t. You were blinded by money and pride and pretty eyes.”

I see the fear in his face now. I feel myself beginning to relish it, even though I know he doesn’t deserve it. Maybe I like it because he doesn’t deserve it. I nearly lick my lips as I lean closer to him. He leans away.

“Elias, I’m saying this to save you.” I say. “I am not a pity project. The day you try to fix me is the day I become unfixable. The day you marry me is the day you marry all of Hell.”

The fear widens his eyes so much he looks like a child. A sudden burst of hysteria overtakes me and I start to laugh at him. Can’t help it. The look on his face… it’s too funny. His fear isn’t as delicious as my father’s, but it’s close. I want to say more, since he’s still sitting there, since he hasn’t gotten up and run from me yet, but I’m out of words.

Oh. I can think of something.

 

 

BOOM. The door shuts.

Father grabs me by the shoulder, spins me, and throws me against the wall so hard I hear and feel my shoulder going crack. I try to straighten, but he’s over me, one hand on either side of my head. He’s bright scarlet.

“You’ve humiliated me for the LAST TIME!” he bellows, right into my face.

I sigh, pushing my hair out of my face, picking it out of my mouth. “I sincerely doubt it.”

He hits me hard, snapping my head back against the wall, and I hear my mother protesting. Father screams at her: “Alice, she’s ruined us! Don’t you see that? Are you BLIND, woman? Can’t you see what she’s doing? She’s systematically TEARING this family to the ground!”

I like that idea. The idea that I, even with no demon inside me at all, could single-handedly ruin everything Father’s worked for. That I am too powerful for him.

“Yes,” I growl, causing him to turn back to me. “Demons do that. They ruin you.”

Father raises his hand again, but some combination of my words and my mother’s hand on his shoulder causes him to lower it and step back. Mother’s face makes me pause, too. I could tell Mother was afraid when I came home- she thought I was missing or badly hurt. She is the only thing stoppering my anger at my father. I breathe in.

“You will not go unpunished for this,” Father snarls, grabbing my shoulder again and forcing me back against the wall as I try to move. “You will be punished for this; it will hurt more than anything you’ve ever endured before. You’ve got no excuse, Mary-Ann. If you’re intent on humiliating me for the rest of time, then I will make sure you suffer for every word of it. Wipe that smile off your face!”

He pauses. Completely beyond my control, I smile wider. My cheeks ache from smiling.

“Wipe that smile off your face before I STRIKE it off!” He yells, grabbing me by the front of my dress.

I drop my smile a little, but we both know it’ll never fall all the way off. I jab my chin upwards in defiance.

“You’re not angry you’ve been humiliated.” I tell him. “Not at all. That’s not the reason. You’re angry because you’ve just lost your last chance to get rid of me.”

He grunts in anger and viciously lets me go; I stumble, nearly fall. For the first time, I notice a small cluster of servants watching us from the kitchen corridor. I don’t blame them. This is better than the theatre. A few months ago, I may have cried, tried to appeal for their pity, but I don’t care what they think of me. I think I want them to hate me. I would like it even better if I could be feared.

“You like riding, don’t you, Mary-Ann?” Father says softly.

I look up at him in shock, and so does Mother.

“Yes, of course.” I spit. “It’s what I do to get away from you.”

“Very well.” He says, taking hold of my arm. Gently this time. “Come with me.”

I realise he’s taking me to his study before we’ve even crossed the hallway. Father yells at the servants to get back to work as he passes them. Then, he tightens his grip on my arm and drags me into the room. He pulls a set of keys from his pocket- they jangle and I idly wonder what they’re for. Then, he unlocks the glass cabinet behind his desk and takes something out. Something heavy. Something that clunks and then clicks. As he loads it. His grip on me grows tighter.

“What?” I say, starting to panic as I realise he’s taken one of his hunting pistols from the cupboard. I try to twist my arm away, but he holds on so tightly my hand numbs. “What? What? What? Father, what are you going to do? What are you going to do?”

He looks at me, calmly, and then tugs me back towards the hallway. I try to get away from him, but he’s holding me too tight. As he unlocks the back door, and the wind hits us in a freezing solid wall, and I realise he’s taking me out to the stables, he turns to me in the doorway and says, very calmly:

“I’m going to stop you from leaving this house again.”

My heart drops into my stomach. He’s got a gun. Alone with me. Taking me away from the house. What’s he going to do? Bullet through my head? Lights snapped out, just like that? No. No, of course not. My ankles? Stop me walking? For some reason, the notion doesn’t seem ridiculous at all. I scream as the door shuts. I scream for my mother, but she’s not there. I nearly scream for Catty. Father jerks me forwards and then, he throws me down before the stables. My horse is tethered outside his door.

“Father, NO!” I scream with all my heart. I scream until my throat is raw. In fact, I’m screaming so loudly I don’t even hear the gunshot. I only hear the other horses panicking, and the heavy THUD. When Father drags me up, I’m still screaming.

“No! No! NO! You MONSTER!”

“I’m not the monster, Mary-Ann; you are.” He snarls into my face. I see the gun in his hand, smoking, and behind him, my horse on the ground. The ensuing sob makes me gasp so loudly I inhale spit and start to choke, tears still covering my face.

“Fa- Fa- Father,” I say softly, my voice hitching. “Why- why- why would you do that? To him? To him? Why would you kill him when it’s me you hate?”

“Don’t be silly, Mary-Ann.” He says as he leads me back to the house. Leads, not drags. He doesn’t need to drag anymore; I’m weak all over. “I don’t hate you. I love you. I want what’s best for you, and it was the only way to stop you from running away. Now, you’re never going to run away again. If you do, Mary-Ann, if I hear one more peep from your mouth, you’ll regret my generosity.”

I gasp again. The hatred inside me is so strong and black it suffocates me.

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