The Little Demon Who Couldn't
‘SO, Murmur my son, what did you do today?’
‘Ahmm…’ faltered the little demon, cowering and trembling beneath his father’s stern face and glowing red eyes.
‘What?’ The big demon put his clawed, sinewy fingers to his hips and leaned forward until his hook-nosed, pointy-chined face was level with the little demon’s. ‘Did you do nothing again?’
‘I…I…made a bucket of milk go off and—and caused the mayor to sneeze halfway into his speech…’ Murmur hung his horned head in shame and clutched his baby-clawed hands together behind his back.
With his tail twitching and flicking like an angry snake, the big demon snapped upright and began clip-clopping back and forth across the room in a rage. Noise enough for a hundred stampeding goats filled the air. Meanwhile, little Murmur shivered and shook so fearfully that his hairy hocks knocked together. As he stormed up and down, the big demon’s short scarlet cloak flew out behind him, and he stroked his black goatee beard manically as smoke and steam spewed from his sharply pointed leathery ears.
Then the big demon suddenly halted before his cowering, cringing son with a screech and a clatter. ‘Never, in all my three thousand years, have I been so shamed!’ he screamed in his hoarse, bellowing voice.
The little demon’s cloven hooves jumped several inches off the floor in sheer terror. ‘Yes, O revered father, O greatest, mightiest devil!’ he whimpered, bowing and scraping desperately.
‘What,’ continued his father, stabbing a long, clawed finger at Murmur, ‘will the neighbours think, eh?’
‘Sorry, O most evil one, so sorry!’ squeaked the little demon, feeling like the furiously pointing finger was boring right into him. ‘I will try harder to be evil, harder, O vilest one!’ he gibbered, bowing and scraping so low his head almost touched the floor.
‘You are nearly three hundred years old; it’s about time you started acting your age!’
‘Yes, vile one, yes,’ whimpered the little demon.
‘You are a disgrace to your mother and I! After all the trouble we have taken over raising you, and you turn out like this!’ Smoke was now pouring from the big demon’s nose too. Little Murmur could barely see his own hooves through the thick haze.
The big demon, whose name was Mammon, turned from his son in fury. ‘Sometimes your mother and I really do question whether we are bad parents!’
Fidgeting desperately with the end of his tail, the little demon cringed pitifully. ‘Pardon, father, pardon—’
But Mammon furiously turned to his son before he could finish. ‘You—you—’ He threw his long, scrawny hands up as he searched for the right put-down. ‘You little angel!’
Murmur whimpered and cowered and cringed beneath this terrible insult. He was so fearful and shaken that he could not speak.
Muttering savagely under his steaming breath, the big demon clattered over to the pitchfork stand near the front door and seized his red-hot pitchfork.
‘Oh human!’ he swore as he pricked his finger. ‘Look what you’ve made me do, Murmur, you idiot-saint!’ screamed the big demon, a tongue of flame spurting from his mouth.
The little demon prostrated himself on the floor. ‘Pardon, O hellish one! Sorry, so sorry!’ he gibbered, his teeth knocking together violently.
‘I don’t give a sunlight!’ And with that final obscenity ringing in his son’s pointy little ears, Mammon disappeared in a puff of smoke. Only the delicious (to demons) stench of sulphur remained where the big demon had been standing a moment before.
When Murmur finally dared to get up again, he heard a sneering chortle. The little demon spun around with a speed that almost took his hooves out from under him. Standing by the hallway coat stand were his two older brothers, Beball and Behemoth.
Behemoth leaned casually against the parlour door as he sharpened the points of his pitchfork. ‘Ha! So father caught you, did he?’
‘Being evil is a lot of work,’ said Murmur, squirming and fidgeting nervously with the end of his tail. ‘Sometimes I just can’t be bothered.’
Beball, who sat on a bench, looked up from polishing his hooves. ‘When are you going to start acting like a real demon, small-ears? Laziness is something we demons inflict those stupid humans with, not something we do ourselves. It’s shameful having a demon as thick as you in the family.’
Behemoth put away his sharpening stone, then got out a file and began sharpening his talons. ‘What are you loitering about here for anyway, short-nose?’
‘Stop calling me mean names!’ squeaked Murmur, stomping his little cloven hoof.
Behemoth hardly bothered to glance up from his filing. ‘Start behaving like a respectable demon, angel-face.’
Murmur was all for stomping off upstairs in a sulk, but he didn’t. Behemoth and Beball were dressed in their best going-out clothes. The red and black silk doublets they wore were in the Elizabethan style; full, puffy sleeves slashed to reveal the contrasting fabric beneath, and worn with matching puffy, slashed breeches and a big white ruff about the neck. Murmur thought his brothers looked very sharp, but he did pause to ponder why the Elizabethan style remained so popular with demons even though it was now 1876. Humans had moved onto frock coats and trousers and cravats. Mind you, human didn’t have tails. Tails didn’t really work with frock coats.
The little demon wore his most pleading and hopeful look as he stood before his older brothers. ‘Let me come out with you. I will be bad, I promise!’
Beball let out a snort of derision. ‘You come with us? I don’t think so!’
‘Right, having an idiot baby brother like you tagging along would make us a laughing stock,’ Behemoth added with a sneer. ‘And you’d never keep up with us anyway.’
‘Yes I would!’ squeaked Murmur, looking pitifully up at his big brothers.
He was desperate to be four hundred. Then he would be able to go to senior school with Beball, Behemoth and all the other bigger, smarter, more evil demons. In the mean time, he hoped that by trailing around town with Beball and Behemoth he would get into more mischief. When he went out alone mischief never came his way. If anything, it seemed to run in the opposite direction if it saw him.
Behemoth threaded his horns through the holes in his black velvet cap and cast a superior glance at Murmur. ‘Don’t talk such purity. An innocent-eyed little imp like you would never get into the vile, evil pranks we big boys do. We are not about to let you ruin our weekend.’
‘Quite,’ said Beball, preening the fluffy black feather decorating his red velvet cap. ‘Last Saturday we lured a gambler into betting everything he owned on one shake of the dice. Then we talked a miserable student into throwing himself off the church bell tower.’
‘Ha ha ha!’ chortled Behemoth. ‘If the foolish wretch had waited another day, the scholarship he so mourned not receiving would have arrived in the post!’
‘It was well done, Behemoth, well done!’ Beball screeched, slapping his brother on the back.
‘I’m fizzing to see how that ruined gambler is getting along!’ cackled Behemoth, rubbing his sinewy hands together gleefully.
Beball’s round, red little eyes shone with excitement. ‘Me too. If all goes well tonight we should succeed in talking him into murdering his uncle to get his inheritance, or at the very least selling one of his own children.’
‘Go and knock a chicken off its perch, or whatever else you spend the night not doing, Murmur!’ cried Behemoth, seizing his gleaming, razor-sharp pitchfork.
Beball grabbed his pitchfork too. ‘Yes, kitten-tail, we are off. We wish you bad night.’
Murmur sighed wistfully. ‘Bad night then, see you in the morning.’
Brandishing their pitchforks gleefully, Beball and Behemoth let out a shriek of fiendish laughter and passed through the door without opening it.