The Devil Inside Me
Copyright Greg Burdon 2011
I never know who truly loves me, or simply pretends to because I am wealthy. And now, as the blood pools on the floor, spilled by my hand, all I can think about is if my most recent wife truly did love me or simply loved my wealth.
It was soon after we had wed, in London during the summer of 1873. I knew that a lot of people thought that I had bullied her into marrying me. People would always talk in such a fashion in regards to my character.
This evening that led to death began at dinner. Candles were lit and the fireplace held a crackling fire, giving the large room a rather sepulchral appearance. My bride and I were sitting at opposite ends of the table, eating in silence. I glanced across the table at her and saw that she was keeping her eyes to her plate as she cut a slice of mutton into a bite-sized piece. I could not help but marvel at how beautiful she looked.
"A trophy, my lord," came the whisper in my ear, making me flinch and sending a cold shiver down the length of my spine.
My bride continued to eat as though she heard nothing. And I knew that she did not. The tormentor by my side was seen and heard only by me, though I refused to look at him directly. I looked back down at my plate and continued to eat as though I had not heard him. But I answered just the same.
"Not this time. She stays with me."
I watched him move out of the corner of my eye as he walked around me.
"But of course, my lord," he replied, his voice dripping with false kindness. I looked up and saw that my tormentor was now standing beside my bride, though she still could not see him. She continued to eat in silence as he stared hungrily down at her. "Of course my lord, that this goddess remains by your side is all that I desire. My concern, however, is the means by which you believe this can be achieved."
I paused. He grinned as he noticed my momentary lapse in control and continued, suddenly appearing at my side with a cold hand on my shoulder.
"Look at her, my lord," he hissed in my ear. "Take in all her wondrous beauty. She is young and pure and unchallenged in her desirability."
Suddenly, I felt his hands on the sides of my face, painfully strong, impossible to pull away, forcing me to look directly at him.
"Now look at me!" he crowed. "See yourself as the world sees you!"
I saw. I saw in him my pale, saggy flesh. My hangdog eyes. My thistle-like beard with streaks of grey. My ever-increasing age, all exaggerated beyond measure upon the face of my tormentor, my inner demon.
"If not for your wealth and power, she would never have married you. She loves your status and the perks it brings. She is disgusted by you, my lord. Your face repulses her and your touch makes her ill. How long can she put up with a husband she despises? She will betray you!"
"NO!" I screamed this word aloud, jumping to my feet, making my bride jump and drop her knife. It clattered to the floor and the sound echoed loudly throughout the dining hall.
Breathing heavily, I looked around for my tormentor. He had vanished. I felt sweat beginning to bead on my forehead. My wife stared at me in surprise, perhaps concern.
"Darling, are you alright?" she asked.
I dabbed at my forehead with my napkin. "Y-yes, my love," I stammered. "I'm fine. I'm not hungry; perhaps I shall go read in my study."
And with that, I turned and left the room, leaving my bride to stare after me in wonder.
I retreated to my study and locked the door behind me. I needed to stay shut up until this torment passed. This is how it happened before, with my previous brides.
I turned away from the door and had to stifle a shriek as I saw my tormentor standing before me.
"Hiding away in here will not hide the truth, my lord," he said, slowly grinning. His teeth were yellow and rotten. I felt sick to look at him. I turned away.
"You cannot make me do this, not again," I told him. "I am the master of this house and I am demanding that you leave at once!"
I heard him laugh quietly. It was a low, evil laugh that made the hair on my arms and neck stand on end.
"My lord," he said quietly. "I am afraid you cannot demand anything of me."
"I can and I have!" I bellowed back at him. "If you make me kill another, I will be alone again."
"No, my lord," he whispered. "You will have me."
He vanished before my eyes and within that same instant I heard a scream coming from the other room. It was my wife.
Suddenly, I was no longer in my study. I was back in the dining room, standing, a knife clutched in my hand. My wife was on the floor, a gash in her arm. She was crawling away from me, attempting to climb to her feet. I felt my arm raise over my head to strike her, to finish her. I felt the rage that came before murder. That she would inevitably leave me and the only way she would stay with me is if I made it impossible for her to do anything else. But then she looked at me and I was staring into her beautiful brown eyes. I paused. And there we stood, staring at each other. Her eyes were pleading, wondering why I was doing this. And in that moment, I no longer knew.
"Finish it!" my tormentor screamed, reappearing suddenly.
I stared directly into his eyes now. His eyes, full of rage. I knew then what I had to do. Holding my breath, I plunged the knife.
"NO!" I heard the scream. I felt the horror at what I had just done, but at the same time, relieved.
The knife pierced through my flesh and into my heart. As my wife ran from the room, I fell to my knees, still holding the knife in my own chest, driving it as deep as I possibly could. My tormentor was screaming, howling, then he vanished forever.
And so now I lay dying. And while I will never know if my wife truly loved me, I know this: I truly loved her.