Authority, Car Crash, Children, Church, Classical Music, Conductor, Country House, Death, Discipline, Education, Ghost Story, Ghosts, Masturbate, Mobile Phone, Orchestra, Pain, Pornography, Sex, Sheela Na Gig, The Devil
[“The Devil On Your Back,” a ghost story for Christmas, is about 15000 words long, and it will be serialised in seven parts over the Christmas holiday. Although Edinburgh is the customary setting for Tychy fiction, the orchestra featured in this story is not based upon the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra, and any resemblance between the two is purely coincidental. Ed.]
Once outside on the lawn, I remembered the little church which I had spotted earlier in the week, and I mentioned it to Honeydew. He brightened at this, telling me that he had visited the church during his own walk, and that it was deceptively remote, standing just around the corner from where both of our cars were parked. He would show it to me, and this would also allow us to check that our cars were still there.
Time seemed to stop as we became stuck walking endlessly across the lawn, occasionally turning to look at the Grange, which appeared to be watching our progress with disapproval. From this distance, the building looked as stark as a madman. The sky was very low, as if, left unattended, it had boiled over, so that the clouds were now bubbling into the treetops. A lonely crow croaked his inimitable dominion over the landscape, proclaiming slowly and carefully that – I am king! I am king! There were no other birds around to contest his property rights.
I could not banish the memory of the Prokofiev, which seemed to be running through my head on a tireless loop. The music was now simultaneously grating and vague, and I wished that I could hear it again, to ascertain more of its detail. The church awaited at the bottom of a small hill. If Honeydew and I had been children, then we could have rolled down this hill, stained with grass and yelping with laughter.
The church turned out to be a squat, shrivelled building with boards nailed over the windows, and a door so stiff and cobwebbed that it could not have been opened for a hundred years. “Presbyterian?” I asked Honeydew.
He laughed. “Stone aged, possibly.”
My eyes wandered over the pattern of the dry-stone walls. It was as if those who had erected the church had piled up the tottering structure stone by stone, and then clapped the roof on quick before the walls had caved in.
With no means of getting into the church, we conceded defeat and began to pick our way through a sunken meadow in the direction of the car park. I turned back to survey the church. “It’s too far away – and too ugly – to be the Grange’s private chapel, but it may have been adjoined to a property which predated the Grange. I imagine that there was something here before the Grange was thrown up in the… I’d say after the Restoration?”
Honeydew agreed. “The building is certainly from that period. But something definitely existed here before the Grange – that pond where they stage the canoeing looks as if it had once belonged to a large farm or an abbey… but…”
Honeydew froze, and then, with a great thump of the heart, I had frozen too.
The figure of a little boy was standing in front of the church. He had thick brown hair, and he appeared to be wearing only the remains of a shirt. He stared at us for a moment and then, as if somebody had clicked their fingers, he raced away.
“That’s him!” Honeydew confirmed grimly.
“Well, we should investigate!” I resolved heartily. “He should not be out here by himself! Although I cannot imagine where he has come from – his parents must let him run wild all over the country.” I was now walking after the boy, as if everything could be explained now that I had finally clapped eyes on him. It did not look like Honeydew was in any hurry to follow, but when he finally caught up with me, I was turning the corner of the church into a sort of natural courtyard. I had earlier established from our viewpoint in the meadow that the boy would be cut off by the thick trees which ringed this little clearing.
“My God! What is that?”
It was already growing gloomy and the unexpected object loomed shapelessly over us, half silhouetted against the milky sky. It had been set into the side of the church, or it had been made to rest against it in some way, and I had soon picked out a huge stone figure, arched in an immense flourish like a tarantula.
“It’s a Sheela Na Gig,” Honeydew said quietly.
“But it’s impossible,” I exploded. “These things are gargoyles – they’re supposed to be tiny.”
Her head was thrown back to deliver a roar so mighty that it would have frightened Heaven into surrendering and handing over the keys. The head was apparently in profile, or else part of it had dropped off over some point in the centuries, but she regarded us with one enormous bug eye, which was truly devoid of any understanding or mercy. She saw us as naked, as prey. Her relatively tiny, stick-like arms did not stop at her hips, or even her knees, but they extended to the lips of her cunt and there her little hands wrenched open a yawning immensity.
I stepped back with bewilderment. If the woman had been flesh, I could have walked into her cunt as if through the doors of a lift. She was utterly foul, absolutely monstrous. “How can this be allowed?” I shouted to the wind. “The council should tear it down! They must know about it! – It’s on their land! If one of our children could see this, they would be traumatised. This is graphic pornography!” The woman lay back, as if waiting for the sun to descend and set in her welcoming cunt.
I remembered that my wife was going to visit the Grange. She would sit in the audience and watch me conduct the singing of a cartoon snowman. She would watch me attempt to smile paternalistically once my orchestra had blundered to an end. And afterwards, she would look at me with sad eyes and she would try to commiserate and we would slide inexorably back into our past…
I bolted for my car. “Wait!” Honeydew cried. I was running for the cark park so fast that his shouting soon fell back, although his footsteps remained faintly behind me in the grass. I reached my car, wrenching open the door and crashing inside. There was a squeal of tyres and then the car was bumping off across the grass. The woman loomed into view: my target.
There was the sound of a muffled, unexpected impact, and I heard Honeydew’s odd scuffs and yelps beside me. I glanced quickly to my side and I saw that I had left the car door hanging open, and that Honeydew had attached himself to my car and that he was now being pulled along like a water skier. He had outstretched a hand to try and haul himself into the car, but I ducked forward and slapped him smartly on the face. When I looked back, his glasses were gone, and he was clinging blindly to the door.
I manoeuvred the car deftly so that the woman was no longer in full view and then I was approaching her from the side. I accelerated massively like a rocket. The car was going at over forty miles an hour when I kicked open the far door and leapt. I landed on my side and everything was ripped from me, leaving a tangle of spinning legs. I was finally fixed shooting along in a river of sensation. With both doors open, the car seemed to peck the woman with a glancing kiss, before it spun and cracked into flame.
I was slowing down. A great pain had already cast its eye on me, but I was not yet too stiff to act. I lurched to my feet, with waves of numbness rolling ineffectually through me, to register with dismay that the Sheela was still bellowing to the heavens, her triumph supreme.
I tottered towards Honeydew, who was lying in the grass. He was dead. His eyes were open and their glassy lustre made him look like a doll. I imagined tossing him back into the toy box, and I was surprised by my own loud giggle, which sounded like a hiccup.
The darkness was now falling quickly and the trees surrounding the clearing were flickering in the light of the fire. I decided to walk back to the house, but I then thought that I had better do something about Honeydew’s body. I sat down unexpectedly in the grass, where I was left battling frantically to pick myself up again like an overturned beetle. How nice it would be to lie back in the cool grass, fanned by the warmth of the fire, and to remain here for hundreds of years like the Sheela. But I was then finally on my feet, convinced that I had a broken arm, traipsing about in front of the fire and the great stone god. My arm seemed to hiss like a snake, in a piercing shrill note, whenever I tried to move it. The only way in which I could shift Honeydew was by kicking him, and so for a while I kicked at his body until it was gradually jolted and smeared across the grass in the direction of the trees.
I finally sat down with my back to Honeydew and we made greater progress pushing back blindly through the grass using my heels and my good hand. We eventually reached some raggedy undergrowth and I left him lying there. Nobody would find him unless they were searching for him.
His eyes were still open and they had caught the light of the fire. Honeydew’s blank eyes, combined with the deep solitude before the Sheela, filled me massively with desire, and it was suddenly obvious what I had to do. I pulled down my pants to my heels and, half naked in the sunset, I began to masturbate with a brutal efficiency. Yet once I was finished, and my head was clearing, I was surprised to find myself totally alert. I looked straight to where the little boy was standing a few feet away. He was filming me on a camera phone.
For several seconds I sat calmly and watched him filming me, with the phone held up in his little paw. I eased myself back into my clothes, careful to give an impression of great indifference, but when the moment came, I found that I had jumped to my feet slightly too quickly and that the boy had a head start on me. I was lumbering after him, my eyes set on his scampering figure. He was racing towards the Grange, and I satisfied myself with keeping him in sight, knowing that he would tire before I did and that when this happened, I could run up and fish the phone from his hands.
The pain slowed me down, winding me, but whenever I fell behind the boy rather oddly waited for me to begin running after him again. In this fashion, we made our way across the lawn in fits and starts. At this point, the only object of my life was to catch this boy and to confiscate his phone, and once this was done, I could then find somewhere to be alone with my pain. But I had to catch him first.
The Grange waited in darkness, without even a single room lit up. The boy was now silhouetted beyond the lawn, but I could still make out the outline of his bobbing head, and I could almost pick out the little clops of his footsteps. As we reached the Grange, he melted into the darkness of the building
The back door had been left wide open. Once inside, I was hit by a sharp coldness, which seemed more penetrating than the night air. The boy was now in the corridor ahead of me and I leapt forward and dealt him a vicious rap on the side of the head. But I immediately leapt back at his cry.
“Sir. Don’t hit me, sir?”
“I’m sorry!” I growled. “I made a mistake. Where’s Tycienski?”
“Mr Tychy. Where is he?”
“The heating broke sir. He went to find somebody to fix it.”
I remembered my original mission. “Have you seen the boy? – another boy? – run down this corridor?”
“Most of the orchestra are in the games room, sir. There’s no electricity.”
“Why aren’t they practising?”
“Why aren’t they practising? We are running out of time. We all need to work very hard for the concert tomorrow.”
“There’s no electricity sir.”
I stalked into the games room. The children were spread across the floor in a large circle, illuminated only with the occasional glimmers of fairy blue light from dozens of mobile phones. Looking about the room, I saw that it was so dark that the boy could be hiding anywhere.
“Right!” I cracked my good hand sharply against my thigh. “We’re going to play.”