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.


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 :)

1. Hunger

The very first time I felt this monstrous hunger, I was eight, and it was midnight. That day, my father had ordered the staff to stop feeding me snacks, and limited my meals to bread and plain porridge. Doubtless, he’d started to notice I wasn’t shedding my childish chub, and decided it was time he made a lady of me.

I shush my stomach, even though I know it can’t really hear me, and that even if it could, it wouldn’t obey. The hunger’s completely separate from me, like an infection. The hunger, I have come to understand, is one of the reasons my father believes the Devil’s inside me. He says only monsters are so greedy as I am. Sometimes, when I tantrum, curtains blow, or glass explodes, or fires break out in the house. I wake up covered in scratches with blood under my nails. I have nightmares about eating and drinking and killing. I also understand now why Father doesn’t love me. It’s because I don’t resent the Devil inside me. Why should I resent him? He and I have an agreement. As long as I keep him fed, he keeps me strong.

The hunger hurts less when I lie on my back. Over the last few months, I’ve become awfully well-accustomed to the gaping hole in the ceiling above my bed, its every crevasse and chip and splinter, the ceiling-beams sticking through like broken bones. The gaping hole inside me feels ten times as vast. The next spike of pain makes me want to fling my arms out and yell and arch my back, but I place my fist on my stomach and press down as hard as I can.

“Ssh. Ssh.” I whisper once it’s died down. I feel scratching under my ribs- there’s something in there growling, like a cat, digging its claws into me. I swear it’s real. “Okay. Okay. Ssh.” I tell it. “Okay. I will.”

I make my decision and get up, swinging my legs out of bed, peeling the sheets away and pushing them to one side. I’m still sweating, even though I’m throbbing with cold right down to my bones. I stand up, barefoot on the wooden floorboards, shaking out my thin grey nightgown that used to be white. It’s the height of summer, and yet I’m shivering. The sky pressing up against the grimy glass of the arched window is purple, plummy and bloody with the dying dusk. The house is black and silent. It’s early, but my insides don’t care. They twist and tighten. They’re telling me to eat. And so I shall.

I’m thinking of the roast chicken we had for supper- I was only allowed a single paper-thin slice, with the usual side dishes of a slice of bread, a glass of ale and a creatively unpleasant comment about my weight from my father. I’d never even realised how large I was till he first pointed it out. I was eleven, and heard him sneering after I snapped a lace on my bodice bending down to pick something up. I straightened with a giggle on my lips and he told me to shut my mouth, that looking like an overfed pig in a corset was nothing to laugh about. That day was the first day of many I stripped off all my clothes and underwear in front of the bathroom mirror to stare at my reflection, to poke and prod fingers into the bits of my body that weren’t good enough. He was right. I was fat. I was worse than a pig. I was practically a whale. I managed to starve myself till bedtime the next night, when the claws came and dug in so hard they made me scream, shoving me downstairs to the pantry where the leftovers were. The rest of my family eat like little birds, picking, never finishing. I know, because now, night after night after night, I finish for them.

I dance my usual path from the side of my bed to the door. I know exactly the layout of the jigsaw on my floor- which boards creak and which don’t, which ones are full of dust on the underneath that showers down through the ceiling into the servants’ quarters. I reach the door and push it open, knowing exactly when to lift and release the knob to take the weight, stop it squeaking. My quick dash across the landing to the top of the stairs is thwarted by another deep, creaking growl curling through my stomach. I stop, my heart in my mouth as I turn to stare down the hall to my parents’ room. There’s not a sound.

I start to tiptoe down the stairs, one hand lightly brushing the banister. There are those who think this staircase is haunted, but I don’t believe in ghosts. The further from my parents I get, the more my hunger grows and the colder I become and the louder my insides cry out. I start running once I’ve reached the hallway. I realise as I reach the pantry I no longer care if I’m caught. I don’t care if they catch me red-handed with my head in the cupboard. I don’t care if they catch me spread out on the ground grease-fingered and crumb-lipped having eaten everything in the damn house, even the food they bought for Sunday’s supper with Father’s work partners. I don’t care if or how they find me- all that matters is that I eat.

I wet my lips as I push open the door to the pantry. It squeaks. I find the chicken in a shoulder-height cupboard next to the window, still on the cutting-board. A couple of sawn-off slices lie on their own. I lift myself onto my toes, grab them bare-handed and cram them into my mouth. Barely even chew. Barely even taste. When I swallow, the relief is instant, and I know I could stop now. The pain won’t come back for twenty-four hours or more. But I’m not going to stop- eating ignites something in me, something terrifying. The more I eat, the more ravenous I grow. Calmly, I pick up the butcher’s knife and jam it down into the chicken to release another hunk which I tear off and devour. Then, another and another. My fingers grow greasy. I suck them clean and feel heat rising into my cheeks. I can’t help it. It’s not me; it’s him. The monster inside me. I swear he makes me do it.

It’s not my fault I’ve picked the whole thing clean in ten minutes. Not my fault my fingers are slick as they grope through bones to draw up the last white shreds from the board. Not my fault I’m breathing harder as I finally look down properly, and not my fault I panic when I realise there’s nothing left. I walk to toss the bones out of the window and onto the flowerbed, then wipe my hands on my nightgown and hope Lula the maid doesn’t notice the patches when she wakes me tomorrow. I push my curls from my face, wincing- I ate so fast I was cramming hair into my mouth too. Disgusting. I restlessly jab my elbows up to pull all my hair over one shoulder, thumbing along my nape and down my collarbones. I feel heavy now instead of light; should feel full, but don’t. Never do. In the innocent blue-and-black loneliness of that pantry, with the door of the empty cupboard standing open behind me, accusing me, taunting me, I take a step towards the door before I remember there were potatoes left from supper too. My insides beseech me. I still feel empty, empty. The hunger doesn’t hurt anymore, but I want to keep eating. Maybe it’s because I know the way they’ll look at me in the morning when they find that empty cupboard. They’ll look at me with that perfect collision of fear and frustration in their eyes- the one that makes me feel deeply, deeply ashamed, disgusted, and yet proud. Perhaps I really want to do it just to upset Father. I know my weight and my behaviour shame him. They don’t shame me.

I start to rattle and bang my way through empty cupboard upon empty cupboard, heat rising higher and higher through my face till I find the heavy white dish of potatoes. The sight of it sends another wave of ravenous dizziness through me and I yank it down into my arms with such ferocity I nearly drop it, shatter it on the ground. I glance upward and catch my own eye in the windowpane. All that’s dripping down my chin is grease from the chicken. Sometimes, when I glance up here in the midst of one of my frenzies, when my eyes and cheeks and lips are burning the worst, I see a different girl looking back at me. She’s got steel-glazed, blank, wide eyes and grey veins dripping across her cheeks. She’s got my face with none of the fat on it- all her flesh is sunken and translucent, tautened over the sharp bones of her cheeks and jaw. She’s prettier than I am, despite her black eyes and her blue lips and her lustrous, toadlike skin. She’s always grinning, even though I’m not. She’s a demon.

She’s not me, I swear.

My fingertips scrabble across hard slick clay and I look down as I stuff the last potato into my mouth, crushing it between my teeth. I didn’t even realise I’d started eating them, let alone finished. It’s tough and cold and rubbery as I swallow it. The dish on my knees is empty. I don’t know what to do with it- I suppose I’ll just leave it in the cupboard, and hope they think there are mice. I ought to clean it up myself, but I don’t know how to do it properly and the tap will make too much noise. I get up and place the dish into the cupboard as quietly as I can.

As soon as it’s out of my hands, I start looking around for more.

There might be some leftover biscuits in the bottom cupboard- Florrie’s special oat-and-raisin ones, baked for everyone’s breakfast today but mine. I fall back to my knees at a cupboard and yank it open, seeing the round baking tin and reaching for it with fingers suddenly greedy again. My heart skips a beat as I feel the tin’s weight- it’s full. I wrench the lid off and let it fall from my lap, caring not for the way it clatter-slams and skitters in circles on the ground like a coin as I start grabbing biscuits and shoving them into my mouth and trying my best to chew them right before I swallow them. I start to frenzy again. My arm starts moving on its own and my mouth does too, and my cheeks grow peppered with sugary crumbs which I lick away as I try my best not to salivate. I sit there cross-legged, in a trance, behind the counter, grabbing and lifting and shoving and shoving till the tin’s empty and I feel just a little less hungry. No fuller.

I lean back and let myself slide down the side of the counter till my back’s nearly on the ground, hoping I can disappear from the view of the door, just in case. I want to eat more. I’ve eaten too much. Far too much. But I close my eyes and feel the frenzy coming back, harder, stronger, making me heavier and yet somehow lighter. It wraps around me, locking me in place and forcing me up and across and into the cupboards. Whatever I do, I don’t taste. I don’t sense time passing. I barely even see. I just blink my eyes open, minutes or hours later, just as usual, to the sight of the open cupboards all around me.

What do I remember eating? Chicken, potatoes… and biscuits. There’s an upturned basket on the ground, and a glass jar on the counter, brown-smeared and marbled with finger-marks. When did I black out? How much did I eat? God, I hurt. Why do these things happen to me?

Does it matter?

No. Stay in here ten more seconds and someone’s bound to come down and find me. Stay eleven and I’ll start on the food in the larder- the fruit and the jams and the butter and the sugar, all the things that aren’t really supposed to be eaten at all but that I’ll eat anyway, because monsters don’t care what they eat.

I swallow and get to my feet. As I stand up straight, I feel the hunger still coiled tight in my stomach. My brother once told me normal people stop feeling hungry after they’ve eaten. I wonder what that feels like. I bet it feels nice.

I hurry across the tiles, close the door and start my guilty journey back across the hallway and towards the stairs. As I start to climb them, making my way towards the yawning curtain of blackness somewhere inside of which is my bedroom door, my heart jumps at every little creak, every whisper of white in the black air. I imagine coming across my father on this staircase. What would he do if he caught me out of bed? Or worse, if he caught me all the way down in the pantry with my greasy fingers and my crumb-coated lips and my hair in my mouth? He wouldn’t stop to ask “What are you doing?” or even say my name, “Mary-Ann.”. He’d probably just drag me out back and wring my neck.

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