And He Called It The Devil (Part 1)
The twins weren't bullies.
Nothing like that.
They just liked to have a laugh. You had to have a laugh, if you wanted to get through on the farm. It made the days go easier.
The man had been called in by their father not because of some transgression on the twins’ part, but because something had swept through the farm that winter. Something rotten and mist-like. Something that kept in the air and cloyed in the water. Something that crawled under the skin and maggoted in the brain. Something that hid in corners and only came out to do its thing once you'd closed the door, locked the lock, and gone off for the night.
The twins' father, when he had seen the first signs, when he had seen the first goats ailing - their knees knocking, their mouths slacking - had supposed it was disease. Some outbreak.
They would have to disinfect the equipment, rinse the interiors, round up the ones that had been marked; deal with them.
But when they had heard the noises coming from the stables that night, they knew it was something more.
Soon after the twins had woken, and seen from the window the dark blur of their father slinking into the barn, they heard the sound again. Champ, a big stallion, had been vomiting up black gunk for a week and now he cried out in horror in a voice that could only be described as human.
Soon after that, they heard the gunshot and then the thumping of their father’s feet as he came up the stairs to check they were in bed.
The men from the village - the ones who called themselves witches, who dressed up like old kings with thorned crowns and wooden masks, even real swords on their hips sometimes, and whose voices could be heard coming from the wood at night - had come on New Year's Day to tell the twins' father that it was the Devil.
They brought with them the sound of lutes and horns and thudding drums.
It was already midnight when they knocked on his door.
They sat round his dinner table in the darkness and told him that the Devil was once an angel - an angel who had fallen in love with God's creation and decided that he wanted to be a man. But hard as he tried, he could not do it. The Devil could move like a man and talk like a man, but he could not love or cry or dream like a man. He was found out every time. And so he hid himself amongst the flock instead. With the right eyes you could see him, the witches told the twins' father. You could see that there was one amongst the flock that didn't move quite right, that moved not like a sheep but like someone trying to be a sheep. With the wrong eyes, though, you saw nothing. And that was how the Devil got in. First he was a sheep, then a pig, then a horse, then he was sitting at the head of your table, drinking from your cup, smiling at your wife, and tousling your child’s hair.
The witches donned their masks and offered to go looking for him, but the twins' father told them to leave and never come back.
Things only got worse.
The twins’ father pulled out three cows studded with tumours as big as your fist.
Sheep came up lame, their mouths frothing, their eyes dripping pus.
Pigs screamed in agony as blisters rose from their hoofs where the skin and horn met – colonies of blisters so sore that when they ruptured the hoof came off with them. They had to stumble around on raw, bloody stumps before finally giving up the fight.
Those pigs left untouched by it all sensed something was wrong. They kept to one corner of the hog pen, shuffled together, perfectly still for hours at a time, just watching.
Chickens arranged themselves in strange patterns. Patterns that they held so briefly that there was no time to divine what they were. All day they went at it, though. On and on and on.
All the while, the twins kept laughing, hard as it was. They had to.
Then, one day, someone else knocked at the twins' father's door - this time a man, not a witch - and at a reasonable hour.
The man had with him a briefcase and a wad of leaflets - the look of a salesman about him - but when he sat down at the twins' father's table, he spoke not of double glazing or central heating, but of God.
God and his works.
He likened God not to some divine, infallible creator forever nutmegged by the Devil, but to ... well, to a shoddy tradesman.
God’s creation was riddled with mistakes, the man said. In every crack and crevice of his world there lived a wrongness that festered and spread and multiplied. It had been put there by God himself – in his sloppiness, in his blindness: a stitch his idle hand had forgotten to thread.
Shamed by his error, God resorted to fiction-telling. He made up evil, and he called it the Devil. He gave him horns and a wicked smile. He made him ever-present yet invisible – an easy lie to maintain for it could never be proved false or otherwise.
All the faults of God’s world were not the fault of his own unsteady hand, but the fruit of the Devil. Far better, surely, to pin the blame on an eternal enemy whom could be fought against, hemmed back, kept at bay, God’s people would think, than to admit that the world was wrong by design and that no amount of fighting could make it right again.
Yes, the man told the twins’ father, the invention of the Devil was the greatest act of misdirection there had ever been.
If the twins’ father wanted to end the trouble on the farm, he shouldn’t go after the Devil, the man said; there was another way.
The twins didn’t hear what this way was, though, for their father caught them listening in on the man’s words and sent them off to their rooms.
The next day, the man moved his things into the outhouse.
He would work quietly and quickly; do the job he had come there to do, and not much else.
His only demand was that he be allowed to bring with him a companion: his daughter. She would be quiet too. No bother.
The twins were scrabbling around in the goat pen one morning when they met her.
Their boots squelched as they ducked into the dirty light. They both pulled up a low stool next to Imelda, who was tied by the neck to the back wall.
Laurie blew her lips. 'She looks old.'
Grace stuck her lollipop in her mouth, and said in a gargled voice, 'Sheiz old.'
Laurie shook the metal bucket at Imelda like it was a rattle toy. The old goat didn't respond. 'She looks dead.'
Grace pulled her lollipop out with a wet smack. 'Looked like that well before all this came though, didn't she.'
Laurie tweaked Imelda's comma-shaped beard and set about arranging her for milking.
The goat's hooves kicked this way and that, added to the thousands of marks on the pen floor, until Laurie started milking.
The milk came out normal.
Grace's lips glistened red. 'Not bad.'
Laurie placed her head against Imelda's body. Listened to the gurgling of her innards, felt the harshness of her breath.
As the noise of milk on metal died, a light appeared at the gate of the pen.
Lollipop sticking out of her mouth, Grace turned to look.
A dim figure stood there, looking in at them.
'Hi,' it said in a girl’s voice.
Laurie looked at Grace. Grace looked at Laurie. ‘Hi,’ they said together.
The girl wore an ugly coat and an old-fashioned haircut, and even in this light, the twins could tell there was something wrong with her hand.
'I'm Primrose,' she said.
The twins just looked at each other.
'This must be where you keep the goats,' Primrose said. 'Your father said there's a big black one. Said he's called Black Peter. I've never seen a black one before.'
The twins just looked at each other.
A voice from outside called for Primrose, and she gave the twins a strange little wave, before going on her way.
The twins sat there a while.
Grace's lollipop had been sucked down to a tiny red flint. 'Did you see it?'
Laurie stroked Imelda as she tugged her towards her feed pan. 'See what?'
'You know what.'
The twins didn't have to ask their father in the end.
That night, as they ate supper, he asked them if they'd seen the man's daughter.
They said yes, giving nothing away.
Their father explained that sometimes in the womb things form that aren't meant to form; things that get in the way, cut off the blood to certain parts, stop the growth. That was how you got a hand like Primrose's.
The twins nodded at that, made the faces you were supposed to make.
'How long will they be here?' Laurie asked.
'Long as it takes,' their father said.
The twins were curious, of course.
A man and his daughter had come to live with them, and they wanted to know what these people had done to deserve such an honour.
Why had the twins' father turned aside the witches - whose strange voices they still heard from the wood at night - but invited this man in?
What did he know?
What could he do?
They didn't mix with the man. They were permitted to speak to his daughter, but not to him.
Through gaps in doors they glimpsed him and their father having hushed discussions, their faces stern.
Sometimes they would see them go off to hog pen or some other part of the farm. They wouldn't come out for ages, and when they did, it would often just be their father on his own, palming his face, the look of tiredness about him.
Their father wouldn't tell them anything of great detail, but occasionally over dinner he'd say they were not to go in the chicken coop or the stables, or that they could attend to the goats, check for strange behaviour, but under no circumstances go near Black Peter. 'Don't even talk to the old boy.'
Things like that.
By and large, the twins rarely saw the man. His thin, drawn figure was seen here and there, roaming distant hillsides or flitting in and out through gaps in doors and gates like a ghost, carrying a pail with him sometimes or a small chest. When the twins went out in the pitch blackness, they saw a light glowing in the window of the annex. What was it that kept him awake at night, they wondered.
The daughter they saw more often. Sometimes she would be trailing after her father, skipping and singing, kicking at his heels like an overexcited pet. He looked stern, like he just wanted to get on with his work without treading on her. Most of the time though, the daughter, this Primrose, was out by herself.
One morning they walked the winding path down the hillside, and there, by the lake, they found her twirling like a spinning top.
Grace sucked her lollipop. 'What's she doing?'
Laurie frowned. 'Dancing?'
‘Could’ve fooled me.’
The twins just stood there watching, barely ten metres from Primrose.
She was singing something too – some out-of-breath tuneless little thing.
She swung her arms and lifted her face to the sky like only the hopelessly un-self-conscious can.
‘Ow,’ Grace said – her teeth had cracked down too hard on her lollipop.
Primrose suddenly stopped at the noise.
She pulled sweaty hair out of her face. ‘Oh. I didn’t see you there.’
The twins just looked back at her.
‘I was dancing. I want to be a dancer when I’m older. That or a singer. Daddy thinks I’m a better singer.’
The twins could see each other’s expressions out of the corners of their eyes.
‘Well you’re very good,’ said Laurie.
‘Yes,’ the lollipop made Grace’s lips purple this time, ‘very good. You’ll have to teach us some day.’
Primrose smiled. Tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
The twins didn’t fail to note which hand she used.
‘Perhaps you’ll be famous,’ Laurie said.
Grace agreed. ‘This will forever be the day we first spoke to a famous dancer. Well. Or singer. If Daddy has anything to say about it.’
Primrose laughed. ‘Well we spoke the other day too. With the goats.’
‘What?’ Laurie said.
‘You said this will forever be the day you first spoke to a famous dancer, but … we met the other day.’
‘Ah. Of course,’ said Laurie. ‘The goats. Now I remember. You know what … famous singers and dancers … I heard they get all the boys.’
Grace clicked her fingers. ‘I heard that too.’
Primrose pulled a face. ‘Boys? What would anyone want with them?’
The twins struggled not to exchange a glance this time.
Grace licked her lollipop. ‘You don’t like boys?’
Primrose said it like it was painfully obvious: ‘Boys? All armpits and smelly fingers? … Yuck.’ She bent down to pluck a dandelion, and as she did so she muttered, ‘Yuck yuck yuck.’
Laurie nudged Grace. ‘So if not boys, what about girls? Do you fuck girls?’
Primrose froze. The dandelion wilted in her fist. ‘You shouldn’t say that word.’
‘What word?’ said Laurie.
Laurie raised an eyebrow. ‘What? “Girls”?’
Grace pulled a bemused face. ‘What’s wrong with saying “girls”?’
‘No, not “girls”. The other word.’
‘What other word?’
‘I won’t say it.’ Primrose crushed the dandelion, chose another one. ‘Neither should you.’
Grace licked the lollipop stick clean. ‘So not boys or girls then. What about animals? Do you fuck them?’
Primrose couldn’t believe it. ‘I’m going to have to cover my ears. That’s what Daddy says I should do.’
Laurie gave Grace a slight nudge, and laughed warmly to show she understood: they couldn’t go too far. There was no fun in that. They didn’t want to scare her off. ‘So what’s your father doing here then, Primrose? It seems like his work is very important.’
Primrose regarded them cautiously this time. ‘It is. But Daddy doesn’t tell me those things. That’s Daddy’s business.’
‘I see. How old are you, Primrose?’
‘Twelve years and nine months. How old are you?’
‘Same-ish. Thirteen. So’s Grace.’
Primrose looked very interested in that information. ‘Daddy says you’re twins. Sometimes God makes the same thing more than once, Daddy says.’
Grace took a shocked step back from Laurie. ‘Us? Twins?’
Laurie shook her head. ‘I think you’ve got something wrong there, Primrose. We’re not twins.’
‘Nope,’ Grace said. ‘Just good friends.’
Primrose looked as confused as a simpleton dog.
‘Why,’ Laurie stood with her face next to Grace’s, ‘do we look similar then?’
‘Erm,’ said Primrose.
Grace threw the empty lollipop stick into the grass. ‘Watch what you say now.’
It was Laurie who put her out of her misery. ‘Nah, we’re just joking with you. We like to kid. That’s something you should know about us.’
‘Yep,’ Grace licked her lips, ‘we do. We like to kid.’
‘I like jokes too,’ Primrose spoke to the ground as she fiddled with the dandelions. ‘Not when it’s confusing though. I don’t like to be confused.’ She took a dandelion with one hand – her good hand – and twined it round the loop in the other hand.
Because that’s what it was.
The twins watched and saw.
The four fingers of Primrose’s bad hand were melded into one knuckled claw that joined up with the thumb, the way another hand would join index finger to thumb to make an O. It was through this O, this loop, that Primrose fed the stem of the dandelion. She twined it tight. Wore it almost like a ring.
Primrose held it up for them to see. ‘Pretty, don’t you think?’
‘Very pretty,’ said Laurie.
‘Very pretty,’ said Grace.
‘We better go,’ said Laurie.
‘We better,’ said Grace.