Everyone has their demons, the saying goes.
I had seventy-two of them.
I remember the moment it all began. The first time I realized that I was never truly alone.
I had been only twelve at the time, skinny, ugly, unloved, perpetually hungry. The Reverend Sisters at St. Therese’s Orphanage, Bodija, had made living a hellish affair, and the older kids had been no better.
On the good days, I got smacked across the face a couple of times, enjoyed two meals and was made to do all sorts of chores from weeding the grounds bare-handed to dusting cobwebs off the bottom of pews.
Bad days, I got beaten with either a whip or a cane, ate a single meal and scrubbed the pit latrines until they were sparkling, armed with only one sachet of detergent and an old toothbrush.
On the really bad days – the days Father Lawrence visited – I cowered beneath my bed at night, the finest bits of chicken and rice left on a tray by my side. Welts would riddle my body from the places the binds had cut into my skin and the spot between my legs would throb. I would stay awake deep into the night, shuddering and cursing… reviling the God whom I was forced to worship… The God who sat back and watched while this became my lot in life.
That particular day had been a bad one. A really, really bad one. Father Lawrence had pulled me aside after the Angelus, and following my private session with him—wherein he made me do even worse things—I finally mustered what little courage I could and reported the matter to Sister Anne, the only adult to ever smile, laugh and treat me to sweets.
However, Sister Anne had had her demons and hers were nowhere as friendly as mine.
She had grabbed me by the ear, so hard it threatened to come off. She labelled me a witch, a little seducer, an accuser of brethren. You see, Sister Anne loved Father Lawrence, and not in the way one should love a mentor or a trusted adviser. Hers was a carnal desire, of which they had both partaken, and it was only in that moment of her ire that I recognized the signs.
Anne had called for Sister Margaret, her friend, and both had me whipped senseless, even as I rolled screaming across the ground. When the canes and whips proved insufficient to sate their hate, Anne upended a jar of powdered pepper over my wounds.
I was paraded half-clothed—delirious with pain, in plain sight of the other children—and dragged before the Matron-General to answer for my crimes. Crimes, I thought, of which the only one I had been guilty of was the crime of having been born unloved.
The Matron threatened to put me out of her roof if I didn’t renege on my accusation of dearest Lawrence. For the next three days, I was locked in confinement; a small room far removed from the rest of the grounds, where the only things I had for company were mosquitoes and my own stink, tears and piss in a toilet that never acquiesced to flush.
Lucifuge came for me on the third day. It was there in that smelly room that I learned we are never truly alone—neither you nor I—for there are powers greater than us watching, waiting, listening… for that moment we find ourselves consumed by despair. Even then, these powers only appear to those they choose. For we might all have our demons, but sometimes, the demons have you.
I was lying there face down on the bare cement when Lucifuge opened the door and let himself in. He was a thin man, lithe of footing and demeanour. His jester shoes made nary a sound as he hopped, and he sat on his heels next to me for what must have been an hour until I raised my eyes to meet his.
“Who?” I asked, through parched lips.
He smiled a winsome smile and the jester hat bobbed on his head. “I am the thing every nightmare fears,” he replied with a flourish. “Proof that morning comes. For I come thus bearing hope, if you would have it.”
“Shh,” Lucifuge said, dropping a sack in front of my face. “Get up, daughter. You will not languish here.”
I turned my head away. “I can’t.”
“You can’t or you won’t?” he asked, a bark of laughter interrupting his words. “Make no mistake, child. You are nearly undone. Tomorrow might bring freedom, but the abuse? That would continue unending. The other children would laugh and Father Lawrence would keep visiting—save that he would be more vicious for you have cost him favour with the Matron.
“For their part, Anne and Margaret would ensure you find no peace, for the rest of their days here. Even if they were to be replaced or you should escape, your lot would be no better. Would you then have life keep screwing you over like this? Or would you get up and take a hold of your destiny for once?”
“I’m scared,” I whispered, keeping my gaze firmly on the ground. I did not understand half the things he said or half the images he had conjured in my mind.
“Scared but not alone,” he replied. “Come with me, child. I will not ask again.”
I craned my neck to look at the man. Even then in my confusion, I knew exactly what he was.
“What do I lose?” I asked.
“Nothing you would miss.”
“And what do I gain?”
“Everything.” Lucifuge shrugged. “Seventy-two times that number, in fact.” He stretched out his hand and waited.
I looked at his offered palm and it seemed in that instant to hold both the warmth of a father and the terror of a tyrant.
Then I reached for the hand.
And have never looked back since.
Lucifuge was an Arch-demon, one of the four greatest powers in Hell.
During the first day of our departure from the orphanage, he had carried me piggy-back style as he flew, chatting non-stop. I quickly learned that he had a weird sense of humour and hated it when people mistook him for his twin.
“I am Lucifuge,” he said. “Lucifuge Rofocale. Focalor is my brother. Yet you would be surprised how easily people mistake me for him. I am an Arch-demon, dammit! Not some mere duke!”
“What do you want from me?” I asked, in-between his chatter, as we blasted through a wandering cloud. The awe of being several feet above ground had long faded, bolstered by the fact that Lucifuge somehow made the entire thing seem pretty mundane.
“Have fun,” he replied. “That is all, and let the others have their fun too.”
He nodded. “Yours would be a life of cycles, henceforth. A cycle of forty days. Of that forty, four would belong to you. The rest to my companions.”
Lucifuge looked back at me and smiled. “Soon. I am going to take you someplace, where you might rest and forget your worries. When I think you have had enough, we would begin.”
The place Lucifuge had in mind was a large mansion on an island off the coast of Lagos. It was well maintained yet un-manned. Lush gardens ringed the perimeter as far as my little eyes could see. Amidst the green, birds, zebras, snakes, bears and all manner of strange creatures danced on two legs across the edges of my vision.
“This is my home,” he said, letting me off his back. “The Manor of Reficul.”
For three weeks, I basked in comfort and luxury in Reficul, doted on by no other than Lucifuge himself.
We would have breakfast indoors together then take a walk around the garden, Lucifuge regaling me with stories of his past and his friends. For lunch, we would sit outdoors in the gazette and there Lucifuge would summon his court. The hosts of scorpions and bears, lions and zebras, snakes and silverbacks would gather to entertain with performance, each different from the last, none ever boring.
After lunch, I would be left to my own devices, to explore the manor as I would. Dinner was usually had in front of the fireplace where I would eat while listening to Lucifuge sing and play, for he owned a violin, which he loved.
On the final night of the third week, Lucifuge put down his violin after a few minutes spent playing. He looked me in the eye, from where I lay on the rug, drowsy with the warm meal in my belly. “The first of my companions would be coming at midnight,” he warned. “Be prepared.”
I nodded, swallowing past the lump in my throat.
That night, after bathing, I applied the perfume I had been gifted, combed out my frizzy hair and put on the best dress I could find in my wardrobe. Sleep was a fitful affair and I quickly gave up on trying. Around midnight, someone rapped softly on my door.
“Coming!” I shouted, leaping off the bed and racing towards the door. What I found behind it nearly forced a scream from my mouth.
A fat, intangible blob floated across from me, larger than I was tall. It had three heads, one of a cat, a man and a toad, and all three sized me as if they hadn’t tasted a meal in the longest while.
Remembering what Lucifuge taught me, I recovered from my shock and curtsied.
“Welcome, my Lord,” I said.
The toad head croaked.
Per my agreement with Lucifuge, I had four in forty days to be alone in my thoughts. The rest of my time was spent serving as a vessel for any of Lucifuge’s seventy-two friends, who could not assume tangible form of their own. They possessed me, controlled me, owned me… coerced me to do their bidding…
I experienced the world through them and they through me.
The Toad-man-cat was Beelzebub and he was a renowned King in hell. In the first twelve hours of his possession, I had walked bare-foot—across water and land—from the Manor to Lagos on the mainland and back again, taking in the sights.
Belial came next and unlike Beelzebub, he was content to merely sit and explore the human form. He touched me inappropriately and when he got bored, he moved to unravelling the workings of my mind. He asked questions that were difficult to answer and when he realized that I was but a child, he offered to conjure a bowl of ice-cream.
Wary, I had said, “No.”
Ashmodai was a rabble rouser, one who always strived to leave a mark. In his first hour, he had asked to see the orphanage wherein I had grown. By the third, we were pressed down over Sister Anne, pinning her with my weight, a length of twine wrapped around my fists and her throat. Ashmodai had promised to kill one person from my childhood each time he took control. By the end of our first session, I had devolved into a mess. The few minutes before the next fiend appeared was spent in front of the fireplace, weeping into Lucifuge’s arm whilst he patted my back.
Paimon was my favourite for his manner was as gentle as he looked. We spent our time in the manor’s library, reading and discussing a myriad of topics. Of all the demons, he was amongst the few who preferred relinquishing control, content in following around and seeing through my eyes.
Andras actively sought out regions where there was strife and suffering. We visited the war torn cities of Syria and Afghanistan by flight, and once he made me laugh as we watched a soldier beat a comrade to death over the interest of a girl.
Prince Vassago loved to help the sick and needy, and this I enjoyed too, for our time was spent visiting the widows and orphans, the downtrodden and the terminally ill. In this manner, he differed greatly from his close friend, Marchosias, who preferred to languish in agony, cursing God and the Fall.
Beleth was lust personified, and the first time he possessed me, I reviled him, for the thoughts he put into my head. His very nature brought the memories of Father Lawrence to bear and although he never did anything untoward, the twelve hours spent with him always left me feeling filthy.
Thus it was that in this manner, I spent the rest of my days in the company of demons.
Each cycle went by quicker than the last, and by the time a year had passed, I had memorized all of their names: from Stolas to Ronové, Furcas and sweet Buer, Ose and Orobias, Murmur, Astaroth who I feared, Zagan, Eligos, Sitri and energetic Purson.
As the years wore on, I couldn’t tell where my personal experiences ended from where those of my demons began. Days zoomed past in a blur. I dreamt like them. Thought like them. I lived like them. The four days I had to myself were the most tedious for during those days, I was plain me: boring and ordinary me.
I soon found myself looking forward to the start of each new cycle, so that I could be wise and powerful, and important and desirable all over again.
Spending time with the more feral demons like Narberius no longer appalled me. I embraced his instincts and we would lope naked on all fours through forests, howling and stalking deer which we devoured raw.
Ashmodai took a liking to my new change, and I would spur him on as we hunted Father Lawrence, Margaret and the Matron General. I took particular pleasure watching him run Margaret over with a truck, drop the Matron off the height of the tallest building we could find, set fire to the orphanage and the kids in it…
Father Lawrence we spared, for Ashmodai had better plans for him. We took him on global tours round prisons, where we let him get sodomized for weeks at a time. Each week payback for every second I had to endure under him. When he came near death, we summoned Bifrons, and the friendly demon would possess me and revive the Padre, so we could repeat the process all over again.
The biggest change was in my relationship with Beleth. Under his guidance, I bedded men and women both, celebrities, athletes, icons… Anyone we so desired, Beleth took me to and had them fall smitten at my feet.
In just a few years, I had travelled every corner of the world and had uncovered the secrets of the universe, known and unknown. I had caught glimpses of the Beginning and the End, though I did not quail for I had my demons and they were my friends.
At some point during the years, Lucifuge stopped visiting the manor. Unlike the Seventy-two, he had no need for vessels, operating on rules entirely different from theirs. I did not bother about his whereabouts because in that moment that I had taken his hand—all those years ago, in the dark, cramped and smelly room—I had known…
Lucifuge started this all and he would come to end it when my time was done.
I grabbed the rusty iron rod, sharpened to a point, and stabbed Father Lawrence, now greying and aged, where he had once stabbed me.
Ashmodai laughed through his squeals. “Hahahaha! That’s the spirit!” he said. “Show that bastard, girl!”
I chuckled, blowing my hair out of my face. We were inside a maximum facility prison in Russia and the air was cold and hard. I twirled the rod over in my hands.
“Alright, that’s done with,” I said. “Wanna go back to the Manor? There’s a movie I want to catch.”
“Sure. Sure,” Ashmodai said, tearing a rift in space.
I stepped through it.
… Until the time came, I firmly intended to grasp my destiny with my hands.
Emuwa looked at his mother where she lay upon her bed. Even in death, hooked up to monitors and all sorts of life support machines, she radiated an ethereal beauty. Her white hair had gone bald over the years and her warm, brown eyes were hidden beneath wrinkled lids. However, her expression… her expression was peaceful. Just like he always remembered.
He wiped the tears from his face and leaned back in his chair, sighing.
“I am sorry,” Dr. Folarin said from behind him.
Emuwa glanced at the man, nodding. Doctor Folarin was young. Young enough that Emuwa could have sworn he was a fresh graduate, yet old enough to still command respect. The doctor was capable however, and to Emuwa, that was all that mattered. He had shown his mother great care.
Emuwa sighed again then laughed. One filled with bitter thorns. “You did what you could, doctor. I just wish… I just wish she could have come back one last time before the end.”
The doctor did not reply.
They fell silent, the beeping of the life support machines the only other company they had besides each other. At some point, Dr. Folarin began scribbling some notes on the deceased’s file.
“You are new here, right?” Emuwa asked. “You did not know much about my mother?”
Dr. Folarin looked up. “Well, I have read her file.”
Emuwa reached for his mother’s gnarly hand. It was cold. “Then I am sure you must have realized by now that the information stored in it is incomplete?”
Emuwa nodded, clasping the woman’s hand in his. “You see, my mother hadn’t always been like this,” he began before he could stop himself. “From all indication, she had been pretty normal, right up to her teens. However, something happened… An incident within the orphanage in Ibadan where she grew. I don’t really know the details… but apparently, she was abused or something and it scarred her… left her in a vegetative state for life.”
A child squealed somewhere outside the room. They were in a private ward but noises like those were not uncommon.
“You see, whatever it was that happened,” Emuwa continued, “my mother would no longer speak or respond or acknowledge anyone. She was lost in her own head. The orphanage, rather than treat her, tried to cover it up. Eventually, when they could no longer accommodate an inept, they had her shipped off to a juvenile asylum and that is the only record of the incident that survived. I… I hope I am not boring you, doctor.”
Dr. Folarin simply smiled. “Go on.”
Emuwa swallowed, keeping his gaze fixed on the woman. “Sometime during her stay in the mental home, she must have taken in with me. Could have been one of the staff or a fellow patient. Who knows? Either way, no one took responsibility. She had me at the asylum and we had to be separated. I ended up in an orphanage just like her.” He paused, lowering his gaze. “Fuck, I don’t even know why I am telling you this, doc. Only a handful of people know this story…”
Doctor Folarin remained quiet.
“You see,” Emuwa said, voice rough. “Back at the orphanage, I was always bitter and angry. A problem child, I was called. I thought I was abandoned… unloved… tossed out by parents who couldn’t care less. Had it not been for this Reverend who took me under his wing…” Emuwa took a deep breath. “Long story short, I came out and made some good out of myself. It took me finishing school and meeting the love of my life—my wife—but I… I decided to forgive my parents and go looking for my them.
“However, who would have thought, huh?” Emuwa said with a chuckle. “As you can guess, after a long year searching, this is what I found…” He looked up at the doctor. “Doc, do you believe that every mad person roaming the streets is truly mad? Or maybe, is there a chance that they are simply experiencing something real which the rest of us cannot comprehend?”
Doctor Folarin seemed to actually consider his answer. “Hnm. Madness, or more accurately, psychosis, is too vague a term and professionally, I would be inclined to disagree. Honestly on the other hand, I cannot say. We still know too little about how the brain works and its linkage to consciousness to objectively rule anything out. Outside of postulating causes, I am sorry to say that this is one answer only the psychotic can truly give.”
“I see,” Emuwa replied. He fell silent for a moment then nodded. “My mother could give no answer either. When I found her, she was roaming, carrying a bag of trash and eating stale bread. Even if I had harboured doubts prior to that search, the moment I saw her, I knew. I knew that this… this was my mother. I took her to my home, bathed her, clothed her, cared for her. Tried to get medical help. It got to the point that even my wife—my greatest supporter—tried to convince me that I was fighting a lost cause. However, how could I abandon mama? How could I abandon the woman who brought me into this world simply because she fell victim to a series of events beyond her control?”
“It couldn’t have been easy,” Dr Folarin said.
“Easy?” Emuwa laughed. “Try explaining to friends, in-laws and your own children that you have a mother but they can’t meet her because she is roaming mad. Yet that wasn’t even the hardest part. The hardest part, like you already know from her file, was listening to her speak. Because every few weeks, my mother would have four days of perfect clarity.”
Emuwa counted the numbers off his hand. “I kept record for years, so I am sure. It was always four days in forty. Never more, never less. During those four days, mama would look me right in the eye and weep. She would ask me about my job and my health, tell me stories about things I could only marvel at. She was so knowledgeable! And she would speak with my wife, play with my children. Tell us to stop dragging her around for crusades, that her problem wasn’t a spiritual one. She knew I was her son before I even mentioned it. And… each time… each time that she asked if I was ever going to leave her too, alone in some manor, my heart just…”
Emuwa choked back a sob, rising sharply. “Thank you for everything you have done for her, doc. I… have to go outside. I need to call my wife and kids… let them know that mama has finally gone home.”
“Okay, sir,” Dr. Folarin replied as Emuwa staggered out of the room, one hand pressed tightly over his face.
With the man gone, the silence in the ward resumed, save for the host of machines, beeping softly.
Dr. Folarin sat carefully in the chair the man had vacated, tired from all the standing, and locked his fingers, looking at the deceased.
He let out a long sigh. “Stories like these are not uncommon in our line of work, you know?” he said aloud, “and they are as beautiful as they are sad. Yet, you are not really sad, are you, mama? You lived your life to the fullest and reunited with all those that mattered at the end.”
He was not sure but Folarin could have sworn that the deceased cracked a smile.
He blinked, wiped the sleep from his eyes, then blinked again for good measure. The woman remained still. Shrugging, Folarin stood and drew the blanket over her face. His next appointment was at the children’s ward and he had just the perfect hat for the occasion. Tucking his hand into his lab coat and retrieving the Jester’s cap, Folarin left the ward. He was almost out the doorway, file in hand, when he turned to look at his patient of the past year one last time.
She lay peacefully beneath the cover.
“Rest well,” he said. “The long nightmare is over and morning has finally come.”
Then, shutting the door behind him, he went off to his next appointment, a small hop in his step.