by Brian Pacula
"...The Devil so maddens the persons whom he uses for these ministries that they totally lose their own control of themselves; like people enslaved, they ponder and gaze upon those things which the demon presents."
Johann Weyer, De Praestigiis Daemonum
Monday morning Clark woke up to find unexpected visitors in his bedroom. These were not friends of his, or even people he recognized, or even people he could recognize as people: these were visitors of the most unexpected sort. Sitting at the foot of his bed was a small man with wild eyes, covered in matted gray hair, with rams' horns growing out of his forehead and cloven hooves in place of feet. On the swivel chair was a bluebottle fly the size of a small dog. Curled up around the chair was an enormous boa constrictor with the head of a dapper-looking bald gentleman. Finally, reclining in a beanbag chair, was a naked woman with unevenly-cut black hair. She was voluptuous and attractive save for a deathly pale complexion and a tattoo of a large black widow spider on her belly.
Clark rubbed his eyes. The visitors were still there when he took his hands away.
"Good morning, my sleep-loving, bone-idle friend," said the dirty, horned man. "You don't know us, but we know you quite well. Merry meet."
Clark struggled for words in the face of this seemingly impossible phenomenon before him, eventually managing to say, "Good morning?"
The fly began to emit a high-pitched, whiny buzzing noise from his mouthparts. "Shush, you," said the horned man. "Clark," he said, turning his attention back to the hapless fellow in bed, "do you remember what you asked for last night? Think back carefully."
Clark thought back as carefully as he could. "I don't know," he said, sitting up. "Lots of mescaline, from the looks of things."
"Very clever, Clark, very droll," said the horned man, rolling his eyes. "I'll assume from your flippancy that you can't remember. You said, Clark, that you wanted to be freed from distractions. You wanted clarity of thought and personal integrity. You wanted self-confidence and you wanted the voices in your head to stop. Well, here we are, Clark. We are your inner demons. We are the voices in your head. We've obliged your request the step out of the confines of your skull."
"Oh," said Clark, not fully awake and not fully comprehending. He tried to make logical sense of what he was being told. "So, what does that mean? Do you guys go back to Hell now?"
"I'm afraid not, Clark, not until you die," said the horned man. "We're just out in the open, now. That's all. Now, allow me to make introductions. I am Naëspiller, and I am your demon of inadequacy and self-doubt." He placed his hand to his breast in a gesture of pride. "I, I squelch your ideas, I cause you to second-guess yourself, it is I who takes the wind out of your sails." He pointed towards the bluebottle fly. "That is Bubo, your demon of poisons and self-destruction. Bubo inspires you to drink liquor and smoke hashish and pick your scabs until they bleed." The fly hissed. "He doesn't speak," added Naëspiller, directing his gaze towards the man-headed snake below. "This is--"
"I am perfectly capable of introducing myself," said the creature in a mellow, cultured voice. "My name is Sejanus. I am your demon of envy, selfish ambition, and greed." He smiled. "I like to think that I have been responsible for many of the bad decisions you've made over the course of the last few years, Clark. It is a pleasure to finally meet you face-to-face." With that, he bowed his head slightly.
"Look at him. He can be such a kiss-ass," said the woman. She acknowledged Clark with a brief glance and a curt nod. "I'm Vulthrogotha," she said. "I'm your demon of lust and perversion."
"Vultha's the most recent addition to our little family," said Naëspiller. "She first joined us on that memorable October evening, about eight years ago, when you taught yourself how to jerk off. Important skill for a fat-faced social maladjust like yourself. Vultha, do you remember the specific inspiration for that little discovery?"
"It was Jamie Lee Curtis' nude scene in Trading Places," she said. "You had the movie on video and replayed that part about twelve, thirteen times."
"My God," said Clark, shaken and disturbed to the core of his being. "My...my...my God." He could, at the moment, manage no other words.
"None of that God business," said Naëspiller testily. "Get up, lazy. Get up and shower the caked deposits of filth and grime off of that distended mass of lard you call a body. We've been waiting long enough for you to rouse yourself out of that smelly bed of yours."
- - -
Clark crept down the stairs while his demons followed close behind in single-file formation. Stepping off the last step he nearly collided with his mother, who was walking briskly out of the kitchen with an open briefcase in her hands.
"Clark, watch where you're going," she snapped, then stopped and addressed him with more composure. "Good morning. I'm late for work and horribly swamped. Could you make me some coffee with steamed milk? It'd be a big help."
"I'm going to be late, too, for school," Clark said. "And I've got some kind of problems of my own right now." He stepped aside, allowing his mother to see the demons behind him. For decency's sake, Vulthrogotha had been made to wear Adidas running shorts and a Boston University t-shirt. Nevertheless, Clark's mother gasped in shock and horror.
"Clark, what is this? What are these things?"
"They're my personal demons. They've escaped from me to come live in the outside world," Clark said, knowing of no better way to explain the situation. "I didn't mean for it to happen," he added lamely.
His mother blinked and shook her head in apparent disbelief. "Clark, I don't know what this is all about, but you know full well the company is being audited this week. I have no time for this," she said, starting to walk back to the kitchen. "Don't leave those things here!" she called back at him. "Take them with you when you go to school!"
- - -
The English professor was five minutes late. Clark sat in the back of the classroom, trying to remain discreet and shrink away from the curious and aghast stares his four demonic companions were attracting. Fortunately, there were fewer than he was expecting.
The professor, however, noticed them as soon as he entered the classroom. "Clark," he said, setting his satchel of books on his desk, "what's going on? You seem to have brought some friends and pets with you."
"They followed me here, Mr. Musgrove," said Clark. "I didn't ask them to come. And I don't think I can make them leave."
The professor frowned over the rims of his bifocals. "Just so long as they don't disrupt the class, Clark."
About ten minutes into the class, the professor called for the students to analyze a particular passage from Heart of Darkness. Clark, having an idea or two about the paragraph in question, raised his hand. Naëspiller elbowed him, hard, in the ribs. "Put your hand down, idiot!" he hissed. "Do you want to make a fool of yourself? Just keep your rotten ideas to yourself, Mr. Literary Critic."
"Clark?" the professor called. "You had something to say?"
"Uh, no," said Clark quietly. "Just stretching. Sorry."
The class continued in peace for a few minutes more, until Vulthrogotha began to take an interest in a young and pretty Hispanic girl Clark was acquainted with. When the professor left the room briefly to photocopy a few pages of notes, she whispered to the girl loudly. "Hey. I know you. You're Graciela, aren't you?"
"Yes," Graciela whispered back. "I don't think we've met."
"No, we haven't," Vulthrogotha said. "See, I've been cast as you in well over a hundred of Clark's sexual fantasies. So, I guess I just sort of feel like I know you."
Graciela's eyes widened and she recoiled slightly.
"There's this one we've been working on for the last couple days where Clark comes across you and your boyfriend fighting in a parking lot--well, we're not really sure about the exact setting, so far--but he finds you two fighting, and your boyfriend starts to push you around, and Clark comes in and beats him up and saves me. I mean, saves you. Anyway, then he fucks us over the hood of his Camaro."
Clark bolted upright, tipping his desk and sending his notes, pencil and books falling to the floor. "Shut up!" he yelled at Vulthrogotha, his voice cracking. He bent over and crammed his spilled goods into his backpack, shouting "we're going!" to his demons as he got up and ran awkwardly out of the classroom.
"How shameful!" moaned Sejanus as they stepped into the hallway. "What a humiliation!"
- - -
"You're going to need new clothes if you ever want to regain your status in that class," said Sejanus. "And a new haircut. A new watch, perhaps. Oh, the damage done."
They were driving around, directionless, in Clark's Camaro. Clark could hardly hear Sejanus over the irritating noise of Bubo whining and buzzing and beating his wings. Only moments ago, the fly had been resting peacefully on Vulthrogotha's lap. "Can we make him stop doing that?" Clark finally asked. "What does he want?"
"He's hungry," Naëspiller said. "Better stop at that liquor store and get him something."
They stopped and parked and went into the liquor store together. Immediately, the demons split up and scattered to the four corners of the store. Clark followed Bubo to a shelf full of Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes, and picked up a few of the sickly-sweet snacks. The demon then flew off to another part of the store. Following him, Clark passed Vulthrogotha at the magazine rack, thumbing through a copy of Penthouse magazine. "Can we buy this?" she asked as Clark passed.
Bubo stopped next at the rows of neatly-arranged liquor bottles, hovering in front of the Scotch whisky. Clark grabbed a bottle, and Bubo, appeased, flew off to the cigarette rack behind the cash register. The store manager shrunk back from the giant fly and tried to shoo it away with his hands. Clark walked up to the counter. "He just wants a pack of smokes, I think," said Clark. The manager gingerly reached for a pack and tossed it on the counter beside Clark's other purchases, and Bubo, apparently satisfied, flew over to the door to wait for Clark to complete his transaction. As Clark flipped through a crumpled wad of bills, Sejanus slithered up to his leg, demanding attention.
"You really ought to stand up to Bubo sometime," the snake-demon said. "All this vile tobacco, alcohol, fat, sugar, chemical preservatives...you're going to get fat and sickly if you keep capitulating to that greedy insect."
"He's fat and sickly already," said Naëspiller. "As far as I'm concerned, if he wants to abuse his body, well, he deserves it, so who are we to try and stop him?"
The manager bagged Clark's items and handed him his change. Clark left the store, his demons in tow behind him.
- - -
The odd-looking foursome sat on a picnic bench together in a public park while Clark, having already finished off the Twinkies, chain-smoked and drank his Scotch.
"You do enjoy your leisure time, don't you?" said Naëspiller. "Nothing to do for the rest of the day but waste time and get shit-faced, eh?"
"This is what Bubo wants," Clark rasped. "I'm just trying to shut him up."
"Bubo doesn't necessarily have your best interests at heart," interjected Sejanus. "I've been thinking very hard. You need another part-time job, Clark. One you can work afternoons, on days like today. Something with opportunities for advancement, I'm hoping. You need the money. You need the honor! What sort of man only works part-time? On weekends?"
"Shhh," said Clark. "Busy. Drinking."
"We still haven't done what I want, yet," said Vulthrogotha, placing an arm over Clark's shoulders. "You wouldn't buy me that magazine," she said with a pout. "We can still have fun, though. Did you see that skirt Graciela was wearing? And that top?"
"Oh God," shuddered Clark, remembering. "Graciela." He took another swig from the bottle.
"Don't worry yourself over that," said Naëspiller helpfully. "I'm sure she already thought you were a lonely, delusional pervert, long before Vultha confirmed her suspicions."
"Stop being so damn negative all the time," said Clark, scowling. "Look at you, all covered in greasy hair and slime. Like you're such a great fucking prize. Keep your mouth shut."
Naëspiller stiffened and and awkward moment of silence passed. "I'm a demon," Naëspiller said finally. "I don't have to impress anybody."
"Why do you guys have to follow me around?" Clark asked. "You're free, now. You're out of the jail of my mind. Why are you still here, for chrissakes? Why don't you leave? Go? Be free? Fucking go to New York or something. Leave me alone."
Pure, unbroken silence bridged the gap between words. "Because," said Sejanus, "we are you. We are as much you as that mass of brain cells you call a mind is. You may have been able to free us, but you can't force us to leave you. We have nowhere else to go. You are our purpose."
Clark thought for a moment, letting the bottle dangle from his fingers. "Barely four hours with you guys, and look at me, I'm a goddamn wreck. It's noon and I've had half a bottle of Cutty fucking Sark. I can't live with you guys on the outside like this." He took another sip. "If you won't leave, then get back inside my head where nobody else can see or hear you. You can't stay outside. It's just not working."
"Is that what you really want, Clark?" asked Vulthrogotha.
Clark took another drink of Scotch. "Yes. Definitely. Voices in my head I can deal with. This entourage of demons thing is ruining my life." He tossed down another mouthful, then added, "Back you go."
"No!" exclaimed Sejanus. "You can't do this, Clark. You don't know what you're saying. You're drunk! Let me stay on the outside, Clark. Everything I have worked so hard to achieve can come to fruition if you just give me a chance to--"
"Sejanus," said Naëspiller calmly. "Shush. He's made up his mind. Haven't you, dirtball?"
Clark nodded. Yes, the horned one was right. He swirled the liquor remaining in the bottle around. There were only about two or three shots left. Had he really been drinking that much? Without giving the matter much thought, Clark put the bottle to his mouth and tipped it back, chugging the last of the Scotch.
Then Clark blacked out.
- - -
Clark woke up face-down on the picnic table, his clothes clinging tightly to him with cold, dried sweat, his mouth possessed of a bitter taste. He opened his eyelids. His vision was blurry and the light hurt his eyes. He pushed himself to an upright sitting position and looked around.
The demons were gone!
Clark got up from the picnic bench and walked slowly to the parking lot. His joints were stiff and achy. Too much booze, he thought to himself. That, and I'm out of shape. He fumbled in his pockets for his keys and let himself into his Camaro. I need a cigarette, he mused, pushing the car's lighter into its well to heat up.
Driving back home, Clark mulled the events of the day over in his head. I sure made an ass of myself. At a stoplight, the Camaro stalled for a moment. Piece of shit! I need a new car. Who the hell likes Camaros these days, anyway? He pulled out across the intersection with a lurch. I want a Ford Focus, he thought.
Eventually his thoughts drifted back to the scene in the classroom, and Graciela. Maybe it's not the end of the world, he thought. She probably won't believe that crazy shit she heard about me. She probably thinks someone was just trying to embarrass me. He smiled, slightly. That was a cute top she was wearing.
I need to get home and roll a fat-ass joint.
But I'm turning into a goddamn pot-head.
I'll feel better after I masturbate.
But there's so much else I have to do...
About the author:
Brian Pacula was born in Berkeley, California in 1979 and recently graduated from Sonoma State University with an English degree. This is his fourth published story. He works at a furniture store.