In Rides the Devil
Walter motioned the finely dressed lady to his bed and smelled a pleasing scent of lavender off her. “Ah, yes, you’ve arrived. Good…that’s good.” Walter dismissed his butler with a wave of his hand, as the stenographer squirmed under his gaze. “I must apologize that I cannot greet you properly. As you can see, I’m bedridden because of ill health, or I would assist you with that writing cabinet you brought along from my firm.” He eyed the young woman as she ever so gently sat down a wooden box on the mahogany desk that sat next to her employer’s bed.
“Yes sir,” She kept her hand on her lap and took a keen interest in her worn-out shoes. “I was requested by you specifically to assist you.”
“Yes, I did.” He played with his burly moustache, and nodded. “You must excuse me, for I am a man on limited time as it is. My mind is full of things that I must express before it, too, is lost to the ravages of age.” He glanced towards the grandfather clock ticking away in his bedroom. He sighed to himself and mulled over so many things I’ve accomplished. Yet, for every single creature comfort brought by good fortune, it has done nothing to save my soul from the inevitable.
Walter held a handkerchief to his mouth and coughed into it, then like a magician, tucked it away out of sight. “You must excuse me, the opiates I’m on, cloud my head. Usually, I am good with names, but today isn’t one of those days.” He reached over with a trembling hand for his glass of tepid water. He took a slow sip so he wouldn’t choke, then gently placed it back onto the bedside table before gesturing for her to respond. “Well go on, tell me your name, little mouse. You may have many years in your favor, but I have very few grains left in my hourglass.”
“Of course sir, I do apologize-” the young woman exclaimed with a hand to her chest. “I’m Missis Elle Parker, and I must say that it is an honor to work for a gentleman such as you.”
“Then the honor is mine,” Walter nodded. “I couldn’t help but notice that you have an accent. You’re from England, yes?”
“Quite right,” Elle bowed in agreement, “I’m from Bromely, southeast of London, sir.”
“Oh, I know where it is, little mouse. I had a matchmaking company not that far from there many years ago. I was the most phosphorus industry.” He chuckled at his own wit.
“Yes, I am well aware of your industriousness in England sir,” She started to set up her writing cabinet on the desk across from his bed and opened it to withdraw a little green ink jar and dip pen from it. “My mother worked there until she succumbed to phossy jaw, sir.”
“Tsk, my condolences to such a fine worker and mother. That was such a common and horrific affliction before we changed from red phosphorus to white phosphorus. Mind you, the cost had killed the investment, but I still managed to make a pretty penny off its sale.” He blinked at the faint memory taking shape. “I must say you’ve come a long way to meet me.”
“My husband brought me here to America just last year,” she said without looking up and then added. “I’m afraid it wasn’t my choice, really.”
“So, I was right to assume that you might be somewhat elated that you should find me this way?”
“No, sir. But I do promise to pray for your soul if it pleases you, sir.”
“At this juncture, I doubt any of that would matter.”
“If I may ask, sir, why would you want of me? Surely you have lawyers that would gladly assist you with your last thoughts?”
“Fah,” Walter waved off her comment. “This is a biography, not my will. I’ll seek a wolf when I need one, but for now, I just require a little mouse to take notes from a lion.”
Elle’s brow furrowed to the reference and was less than keen on the nickname he had given her since her attendance. Though it bothered her, it rather amused him to no end.
“As you can see, I’m bedridden, and my hand shakes so much that I cannot effectively hold a pen to write my own name. I assure you that many times I have had to pull this rope above my bed to get one of my servants to come to my aid.” He then muttered under breathe, “Infirmed is no way to go on living.”
“If I may ask, sir, but where is your wife? Surely she must be of some help?”
“Ah, that’s the rub now, ain’t it, little mouse?” He brought up a calloused aged finger. “You would think a man of my position would have just had anyone at his beck and call? Oh, no, my little mouse, I have learned right away to shun the world early in my sickness, simply because I am suspicious of all people that come through that door.”
“So if I may ask you sir, then, why me?”
“Because you know strife, and have risen from it like I had.” He bent closer, “only you embraced the word of God, while I embraced the work of the devil.” He leaned back on his pillow, nodding.
“Sir?” Elle held a hand to her chest to where dangles her mother’s cross from a silver necklace. She squirmed in her chair. “What you say, good sir is blasphemous.”
“Fah,” Walter waved her comment off as quickly he would let a fly in his face. “I’ve traveled halfway around the world and seen many strange things that you couldn’t even imagine. I’ve seen and partaken in such impossible things that contradict all rational and intellectual thought.” He glared at her, “and I need you to little mouse to jot down every word as God was my witness to the story of my life when I met the devil himself.”
Elle started to put her things back into the writing cabinet with the intent to leave. Clearly distraught by the madness revealed. “What you ask of me, sir, I will not do. Clearly, it’s the sick ravings of a lunatic, and I want no part in it. I was baptized a Catholic and what you speak of alone is heresy to my ears.”
Walter held out his hand to her, “this is a time of spiritualism, and of enlightenment, is it not? What I support is that I have seen it happen with my own eyes. An account of fame promised to so very few. So If I can get the word out on my final dying breath-” He sat back, exhausted by his own actions. “Then, at least then, I can prevent such accounts from occurring to others in my absence from this world.”
“I cannot listen to this—this blasphemy any longer!” Elle snapped the brass latches to lock up her mahogany writing cabinet closed and stood tugging at the handle and then lowered at its weight. “We will talk of this no more, good day, sir.” She stood away from her employer’s desk that stood a distance from his canopy bed and two large open windows.
When Elle reached the door to exit and turned the copper door handle, she discovered it locked. She looked over to her employer as if he were some ferocious beast about to leap from his bed like a lion and tear her own heart out.
Walter withdrew a copper key from a chain around his neck and dangled it like a fishing lure. “Oh, don’t think that because I am a dying man that I am not a buffoon. I informed my servant long before your arrival to lock the door once you were in.”
Elle looked around for a means to escape. “So you’ve done this in case of my wish to leave? You, sir, are as mad as a hatter if you think I will do as you ask.” Elle fretted like a trapped mouse.
“What I assure you, little mouse, is that you will do as I ask, or the repercussions could well be beyond my control. Your husband is the breadwinner of the relationship, is he not? It would be a shame that he should be forced to seek employment dependent on my reputation.”
“You threaten all your employers, sir?” Elle hurried over to the door and began to pound on it. “Hello? Please, somebody, let me out of here!”
“Save your breath, child.” Walter chuckled to himself. “My servants have departed to the market. I made sure that we’d be left alone without distraction.”
Elle hurried over to one of the open windows and looked out. They were high up on the third floor and so the possibility of escaping intact short of killing oneself created an unsavory image in her head. She thought of yelling for help, but before she could utter a word…
She remembered the cord above her employer’s bed. The thought of having to tussle for her safety wasn’t entirely beyond her ability. She did have to fight with her cousins as a child and with rougher children in her youth. The very thought of touching her employer disturbed her more than she had been willing to admit.
“I would suggest the door; it presents a far safer exit.” Walter pointed from his canopy bed to the only exit possible. “A pity you should need this key for a means to your escape. Ah, but the consequences of refusal for my offer…” He tsked.
“You’ve seemed to have my attention, sir, like a bird stuck in a pretty cage,” Elle turned from the window with her arms crossed, scowling at him.
“Not for too long, hopefully,” Walter contended to dangle the key to her escape. “All that I ask of you is that you write my story out for me in your pretty penmanship. They tell me that you are the best suited for the job.”
Elle stepped forward hesitantly, “what you ask from , sir, is an abomination.”
“I did not swindle you here in hopes of taking advantage of your delicate senses, nor did I ask you here to lure you into my bed-chamber. I merely require you to write out the words that I speak, for I cannot do so myself.”
“But surely you could ask one of your sons perhaps?”
“Fah,” Walter dispelled her suggestion with a wave of his arthritic hand. “They only seem to come around when it suits their fancy, or if their funds are too low to support their own interests.” He tapped at his thinning scalp. “What I fear most is that they might not understand and deliver me to an asylum.”
“Pardon me for saying sir, but it’s not every day that someone says they’ve had dealings with the devil. So I would understand a concern towards your mental condition.”
Walter’s face lost all composure. It was as if the room was coalescing into one point of reference on Elle’s concerned face. His thoughts were slowing down and distorting, and for just a moment, he tapped into something dark and terrible. It looked back at him and woke. Elle came close to touching him when he gasped and recognized her.
“My apologies, my mind wanders as it often does. What did you say again, little mouse?” He noticed that she had her mother’s eyes and the mannerisms he both loved and missed dearly.
“If I do this…” She moved hesitantly to her writing cabinet, prepared to get this whole ordeal over with so that she didn’t get herself, or her husband, fired for insubordination. “I assume that I can take my leave without repercussions, am I correct?”
“Of course,” Walter agreed to the terms and waited for her to add more to the offer. “But should you stay, you will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts for enduring the ramblings of an old fool. You can take the money I offer for your services and take it straight to a church’s donation pot for all I care. But I assure you, you shall be compensated for your troubles.”
“How can I trust you’re a man of your word?”
“There comes a day when wealth becomes meaningless, and all you have is your word. What is a man without keeping a promise to a lady?”
Elle continued to stare at her employer. The funds offered initially would help her, and her husband get a better room in a better location. Perhaps, even a crib for the child she found just yesterday, she carried.
“At least close the windows, little mouse,” Walter motioned her to comply with his wishes. “Or the pigeons will start coming in. They are a bother to catch. They can make such a mess of the room.” He held a cloth to his nose and mouth.
Elle stopped and turned back to the first large window, but kept an eye on him. She locked the first one closed, then did the same to the second one.
She turned to him, ready to agree when her employer interjected. “The air here even in the fall gets most foul to breathe at my age. The factories’ stench seems to linger in the air. Usually, the rain washes it all away along with the street stench and sewage.”
“I got used to it while growing up in Bromely. After me mum died, I slept in a room with five nieces and nephews with my-”
“Your aunt, Matilda, I do believe.” He blinked at the clarity of his memory.
“How did you know?” She paused, “Oh, how silly of me to forget, you owned the match factory that took me mum, the only person that even gave a rat’s arse for me—aside from my own husband, of course.”
“That’s not entirely true, I assure you.”
“True enough for me,” Elle wiped a smear of gray dust from her hand and off on the only good dress she ever owned. Then she went over to the desk and sat down with her hands on her lap.
Walter politely asked, “Are you prepared to hear the story of the century?”
“What makes you think that I will even write a word of that blasphemous story of yours? That afterward I might just throw the entire contents into the fire and ignore the consequences?”
Her employer coughed into his handkerchief to clear his throat. “Perhaps look on it as a religious curiosity?” He perked an eyebrow, “no? Well, how about more money then?” He opened his arms to sell it further. “I mean, I can’t take it all with me now, can I?”
Elle nodded in thought. “Couldn’t you just do it?”
“That’s all fine and good, little mouse. But my hands, they shake too much for as you well know, I am dying.”
“So you keep saying,” Elle opened her stationery box went through her things. “You ever thought of moving to the country where the air is better and doesn’t hurt to breathe? Maybe get a little more sunlight on that pale complexion of yours?”
Walter chuckled, “When I was younger and lived in the Klondike, I became as red as an Injun in the hot summer, and as blue as an Eskimo with frostbite in the terrible cold. Out in the wilderness, nothing compares to what we take for granted in today’s civilized world. Life along the river’s edge, with a claim on your stake, panning for gold was burdensome, backbreaking work. Many times, it was harsh and dangerous if you came unprepared. So many perished on the way there and left for the ravens and crows to scavenge. If one was lucky enough to survive the entire trip, some succumbed to the harsh life rigors. As they sought to become rich enough to leave that untamed frontier. But the gold fever we all shared had a way of making men as hard as nails, and as mean as a cougar.”
“Much like the life poor folk must contend with.”
“Little mouse, every status has endured some harshness in one form or another, even in these exciting times. But I assure you that my tale starts in the Klondike is not a light one. It was wrought with strife, courage, and a dash of madness.”
“Madness, you say?” Elle sighs and withdraws her writing material, and starts to write. “Then, I suppose, dear sir, you might have to tell me more of this harrowing tale of yours.”
“Where shall I start?” Her employer tapped at his grey unshaven chin. “So much to tell…” He looked over to the grandfather clock across from them and deduced so little time left. Why did I wait so long to do this? I should’ve done this sooner, instead of waiting to the very last minute.
Elle sat at her employer’s desk and listened as he narrated the day that he met a peculiar man on his quest to strike it rich.
Elle stopped writing. She stood back, and laid her dip pen back into the penholder. She kept one hand over the other on her lap to keep them from trembling as she gave her employer a thin, forced smile. “Is that all of it?” Her attention went to the window that opened by the butler, who finally returned. It was dusk outside, and she moved her head to look towards the exit and saw that it was unlocked and ajar just a bit. Enough so that she could see down the hallway. Her employer looked exhausted with his eyes closed and a bed full of papers of what she had written, and rewritten to get down word for word his confession. She couldn’t believe her luck. Elle had endured her employer’s wild ramblings of how his first fortune started with a Devil’s pact. How ludicrous, she thought, as her hand went to the cross on her necklace. A made-up story, dreamt up by a sick and senile old man just wanting attention. The Devil, Elle scoffed, I wasted my whole day here listening to such drivel.
Elle slowly got her things together as she listened to the man wheezing to breathe. She ever so slightly closed her stationery box and tried ever to close the brass latches without them snapping loudly as they locked. She was very tired, so when she moved the case, its weight had her tipping to one side. She turned away from her employer’s bedside, hoping to make it home and make her husband a meal, when unexpectedly, the old man opened his eyes.
She felt a hand close on her wrist and pull her towards her employer. A look of horror was on his face as he looked towards the window.
“It worked,” His eyes looked around the room as Elle tried desperately to get away from her employer. “He’s close by. I can feel it in my bones.”
“Let me go,” she protested, but he refused to listen. He held on to her tighter until it started to hurt. “I-I should leave now to attend to my husband, he waits for me-” She bent low and tried to us her weight on his arthritic hand to release her, but he held on.
“Don’t you see he’s coming for me?” Walter’s voice rose in pitch as he began to rise from his bed.
“It’s just in your head,” Elle finally said. “Now, please sir let-me-go…” She placed her foot on the side of the bed and pushed off until he finally released her. She lost her balance and flung backward. Her head smacked hard on the side of the solid mahogany desk.
Elle grimaced as she pulled back her hand on the wound she received and saw blood.
“No-” Walter went over to her just as a shadow passed the window above him.
“No-no-no-” He brought her head up and looked at the mess. Blood speckled on her clothes, the floor, and the papers on the desk.
He held her close as she was in shock of what had just happened.
“Unhand me-” she tried to beat him off and get him away from her. Only he held on sobbing. “B-before they come for me, little mouse, you must know-” He looked around the room as the light started to dim. Shadows crept closer as a chill filled the room, even the breath they exhaled hung in the air.
“I did as you asked, now let me go-”
Walter held on tighter and squinted his eyes shut, “I have to tell you why I picked you to come here before it’s too late. Before they come and whisk me away to Hell.”
“I will not listen anymore to your lies.” Elle struggled more as Walter locked her arms to her chest with his own.
“I knew your mother well-” he started to shout above the wind as it blew both of the windows open with such force that the glass shattered and pelted them on the floor like hail.
“You dare speak of her to get me to linger here another moment?”
“No!” Walter was defiant, “she tried to save me from my own demons. I loved her so.”
“I cannot take any more of your lies,” Elle struggled, “you have proven to be a fiend and a liar.”
“When I found out your mother was gifted, I enlisted her to find me a cure from this curse…”
“Such lies on top of even more lies!”
“She and I fell in love,” Walter closed his eyes as the wind in the room grew in volume and intensity. The manuscript Elle had worked all day, whirled around the room like loose newsprint in a storm.
“Stop trying to win me over!” Elle got her arms free and placed her hands over her ears to shut him out. “Enough!”
“She gave me a gift that no one else could give-” He persisted.
“I don’t want to hear this.”
He yanked her hands away so she could hear him. “You must know that of all the children I have had, you were always my favorite.”
“Then you, sir, made me both a bastard and an orphan,” Her hands forced their way to Walter’s throat.
“She’s here,” He chocked for breath. “Look.” He pointed behind her.
Elle glanced over and saw a half-naked, bald, black-skinned woman looked down on them from the windowsill dressed like a Zulu warrior. When the women smiled down at them, her teeth looked jagged and as sharp as a row of blades.
“Girl, don’t stand in my way,” The witch took her foot, pressed it to Elle’s face and give it a good shove. “And close your mouth, you’re like a fish out of water.”
Elle fell back and just stared blankly as the black woman landed on the floor on all fours like a wild jaguar next to Walter.
“I came for you,” she announced, as she stood up to lord over him. “My Master awaits payment for his services.”
“I don’t want to go,” Walter hid behind Elle. “Please, just taker her in my place! She is my only daughter. If you want to hurt me, then take her as an extension.” He grabbed Elle by the shoulders then pushed her from behind so that she fell forward on all fours before the witch.
Elle screamed at him as she pushed herself up. “I hope you roast in a thousand Hells.”
Walter hobbled to his bed. He rummaged through the layer of sheets, withdrawing a loaded Smith & Wesson Model 3 and pointed it at the witch.
The witch looked unimpressed, “Fool! Whatcha gonna do with that pithy thing? You think that I can die that easily?”
“Let me put that to the test,” he aimed the pistol, fired, and the bullet punctured through the witch’s chest, falling back from the recoil against the wall, then slowly fell heavily to the floor.
Walter started to giggle low. Then, in a fit of madness, he howled with laughter and even cheered as he blew the smoke out of the barrel. He looked to Elle who was absolutely mortified and inconsolable. He tossed the pistol on the bed and went to her.
“It’s over,” Walter confided confidently. “I won.”
“Sir?” his butler was at the door peeked in. “Are you okay?” The man gasped at the half-naked black woman slumped near the open window.
“Y-you killed her,” Elle was shaking on the spot.
“It’s okay,” he held his daughter at arm’s length. “She was in leagues with the Devil.”
“Sir,” He opened the door wider. “I’ll get and get the constable-”
“Not now, Monty,” Walter dismissed the butler with a wave of his hand. “I have everything in control here. I’ll call you when I need your help.”
The door of his room slammed shut all by itself. The lock below the doorknob clicked as Monty tried to open it.
“Y-you’re a horrible, incorrigible soul,” Elle tried to get out of her father’s arms. “After this, I want nothing else to do with you.”
“Don’t you see? I did this to save us?” Walter tried to be reasonable. “I wouldn’t’ve let her take you; I was just buying some time. I’ve consulted spiritualists and occultists to summon her and deal with her once and for all.”
“Y-you’re not dying?”
“Not today, my little mouse.” He laughed. “I’ve been mildly poisoning myself to get their attention.” He pointed his head to the dead witch. “They think that they can have my soul, but I refuse to give it over so easily. Not without a fight.”
“So all of this was a ruse, some sick trick to use me?”
“No, no, little mouse, it was to get the chance to see you with my own eyes just in case my plan didn’t work. I needed you to witness this, to understand why I had to do this.”
“Now what are you going to do?”
“I have a plan, but you must follow what I say and once this is over, you can have anything in the world your heart desires. Any place you want to go, we’ll go. All the things you wanted to have will be yours. Just all that I ask is that you trust me.” Walter put out his hand to take hers.
For a second, Elle wasn’t completely sure of herself or of the man that said he was her father. She looked into those age-old eyes and gave in. Her hand slipped over his and without even a second to do or say a thing, he grabbed a sharp knife from the dinning table beside them and slashed across her open palm.
Elle cried out and tried to pull away as blood dripped freely from the open wound. With a hand gripped tightly to her bloodied hand, he tugged her towards the dead witch holding the knife in other.
He then motioned for her to stay next to the dead woman and proceeded to cut the witches’ palm as he had done to his daughter.
“Now listen very carefully,” He took both her hands and the witches hands and pressed them together so that the blood would mingle. “Now you must do as I say. Trust me.”
Elle made a face and then her attention went dreamily to the broken windows. The street grew silent, dead silent. She spotted a long shadow stretching across the street lamplights, across the side of the buildings from across the street. A manlike silhouette with a goat’s head stretched menacingly towards the mansion.
“Is that him?” Elle started to fret. She wanted to abandon her father’s advice, to run and hide.
“Take this,” Walter handed her the bloody knife that had strange glyphs scratched into it. “When he gets here, you must stab the beast right in the heart.”
“How can you ask me to do such an awful thing?” she cringed.
“You will do as I say, or we both go to Hell for this.”
Elle looked at her reflection in the silver shined carving knife as the blood dripped off.
“Just stay right there.” Walter went over to the bed and took up his revolver and check t for bullets. Just as the lights in the master bedroom flickered and dimmed.
“So cold…” Elle saw her breath in the air and shivered.
An ominous shadow fell across her.
The clopping of hooves on the windowsill made her go ridged with fright. The air stank of sweat, burnt ash and musk.
“I had these bullets specially made for-” Walter turned to the window and smiled. “Oh you arrived, good.” He brought up the pistol and aimed in Elle’s direction. “Little mouse,” He said calmly. “Please be so kind as to move aside, would you, my dear?”
She scrunched her eyes shut and couldn’t budge an inch. An animal’s wet nose started to sniff her and snorted. In the corner of her eye, she watched the beast towering beside her. She nervously glanced from its head to hoof. The Beast’s head was indeed a black-haired goat. His naked hairy chest wore old scars and dusted with incense ash. The lower half appeared convincingly goat-like, that was if a goat could stand up on its hind legs and walk around like a human. Elle paused on the beast’s midsection and formed a quirky little smirk.
Well, it’s certainly a male.
“Little mouse,” Walter still had his pistol pointed in her direction. “Get out of the way.”
The Beast’s hand went on to her shoulder and spoke in her head. You shall be made whole again.
Elle didn’t think of her husband. She didn’t think of anyone in the room except the overwhelming love and adoration the Beast.
The creature faced Elle and she saw that the beast’s eyes were like looking at something vast in infinite. Elle felt lost in a world beyond her.
“Elle,” Walter persisted. “Either you do as I asked or I swear I shall shoot and be damned of the consequences.”
Elle turned, raised the blade high up and when she looked into the Beast’s eyes, she was enamored and mesmerized, like a deer caught off guard. She didn’t see the hairy, smelly Beast but a meek young naked man and on his shoulder a birthmark in the shape of a goat. A man cursed at birth and a protector of witches.
She eyed the fallen witch, slumped behind the beastly fellow and felt a great loss of love. She knew that both were outcasts brought together to protect each other, and her father, the murderer of her beloved mother, had managed to destroy her love too. She eyed her employer, her father, who held the revolver in her direction.
Walter didn’t like the look she was giving him. “Don’t—” he warned. “Don’t do this little mouse.”
From behind him came an insistent knocking, then a deep pounding on the door to his bedroom. The Police, on the other side, demanded he open the door, or they would break it down. He heard a volley of voices in the hallway. He felt a slow trail of sweat down his back. Just then, Elle turned on him. Only he didn’t see his own daughter. Instead, he swore that he had seen the witch lunging at him. He shot once, and the woman dropped flailing forward—the blade in her hand sunk between his collarbone and ribcage, puncturing his left lung. For an instance of panic, the gun slipped from his hand and to the floor. He swaggered as he looked down in shock at Elle as she lay on her back by his feet. Blood pooled around her wound as Walter staggered back, making little bloody footprints on the polished hardwood floor.
You did all of this to get my attention? The Beast snorted as he plowed into Walter’s open arms. He gripped the Beast’s large furry head as it gored into his chest, slamming him to the wall beside the splintering bedroom door. Blood sputtered from Walter’s lips, and his eyes closed.