Some pets have a face that only a child could love. But is this really a love connection or does this moment end in tragedy? Come up with a story based on this mismatched couple.
This piece, by Omar Rayyan is titled "The Favorite" (via Super Punch) and if it strikes your fancy, he has prints available on Etsy. If this gets your writing juices flowing, come up with a story and post it in the comments.
Here's my story:
Yakub pulled his brush back from the canvas. "Ana, sweetie?" he said in his most soothing voice. "Could you lift Be'helamuth'ai a little higher?"
The little girl grunted a tiny girl grunt as she heaved the demon higher. The creature smacked its lips in response, and Yakub wondered if it had finally been lulled to sleep. Suddenly, it reared its great, ugly bull's head backward and bellowed a torrent of black smoke. "You will pay for this, painter! I will emerge from the depths of the forty-seventh circle more powerful than ever and I shall feel the bones of your children's children's children gnash between my teeth! I will find your soul and wrench it from its pitiful afterlife and subject it every torture I know. My riders are the red homunculi and they will whip your spirit to ribbons."
Yakub coughed politely. "That's great, sweetie. Absolutely perfect."
He could hear the crisp friction of stiff silk as Madame de Lis crossed her arms behind him. "Does she really have to hold that wretched thing the whole time?"
"Now, cherie," Monsieur de Lis boomed beside her, "let the painter do his job."
"Trust me, Madame," Yakub said as he studied his palette for the right shade of gray, "I would like nothing better than to see the creature caged."
"I will hang you like a chicken from the gates of my home," Be'helamuth'ai roared. "Each morning the gates shall open and drag their spikes across your back and each night they shall close again and rake across your front. The vultures will pick at your entrails until you have forgotten how to scream."
"Did you do the Beauclerc's demon?" Madame de Lis asked.
Yakub scraped a touch of ecru against a blob of brown paint. "They decided to keep theirs in the end."
"Oh!" Madame de Lis gasped. "Très démodée!"
The truth was, Yakub could see the wisdom in holding onto one's demons. Why bow to fashion when you might need a little hellfire on a rainy day? And sometimes the bindings went awry; he'd heard of a family in Vienna who had called their demon back to find that he now understood only every fourth word of their commands. But Yakub was a demon painter and it wasn't his business to talk himself out of work.
He dabbed the brush to the canvas one final time before looking up. Sure enough, Be'helamuth'ai had vanished from little Ana's arms, taking his black smoke and his threats with him.
"Done already?" Madame de Lis asked. She moved closer to inspect the painting. "Incredible," she murmured. "It looks just like any other painting."
Yakub smiled faintly. He liked to think it was better than that, but no one hired him for his composition or the way he mixed colors to produce an illusion of light.
Ana toddled into her father's arms. Monsieur de Lis swept her up and showed her the painting. She reached out one grasping hand. "Doggy!" she cried out and her father pulled her arm back.
"So the demon is bound to her now?" he asked.
Yakub nodded as he wiped his hands on a rag. "Your daughter is the only one who can summon Be'helamuth'ai from the painting."
"And how long before…" he trailed off.
Yakub half-rose from the seat, contemplating the canvas. "I would give it a few weeks to be safe. Do it far from the house, though."
Yakub packed up the rest of his things, and accepted a thick envelop from the valet on the way out. Another would arrive in a few weeks, like news that a sick friend had finally passed. That was the tragedy of the demon painter; all of his paintings were made to burn.
"Simply remarkable," said the American woman. She turned to her companion. "You know it was something of a fashion towards the end of the 17th century, to paint children with grotesque or unusual animals. Little girls holding toads, boys with rats as pets, that kind of thing. Presumably it was some kind of reaction against decades of saccharin family portraits." She gestured at the painting. "But that, that goes beyond anything I've seen. What an extraordinary flight of the imagination."
Her partner, a thickset man with a beard and glasses, grunted something inaudible in response. He sipped his martini and stepped forward to peer at the painting more closely.
The Marqués Adrián Ximoa de Empuries waited politely for her to finish, a slightly quizzical smile on his lips. Very softly, he cleared his throat. The woman jumped.
"Oh, Marqués," she said, turning around. "I was just showing my husband this astonishing painting of yours. It's simply extraordinary. Wherever did you find it?"
The marqués gave her his irreproachable smile.
"The painting has been in my family for many generations," he said. "You are quite correct that it dates from the late 17th century. However, you must permit me to correct you on one small point. The painting is not a work of imagination. It is drawn from life."
She looked at him in disbelief for a few seconds and then burst out into a loud braying laugh.
"Oh, Don Adrián, you are a joker," she said. "I almost believed you for a second there. From life, indeed. Wherever would one find such a creature as that?"
"I assure you, madam, I am quite serious," the Marqués said, seemingly not in the least offended. "The painting represents an ancestor of mine."
The woman frowned, as if she was unsure whether she was being made the butt of an extended practical joke.
"The little girl there is Maria Inocencia de Amurias y Ximoa. The creature that she is holding is her brother, Gonzalo Beltrán."
"Her brother!?" exclaimed the woman.
"Quite so," the Marqués said. "You see, my many-times-great-grandfather and grandmother, the parents of Maria and Gonzalo, were practicing diabolists. While outwardly observing the rituals of the Catholic church, they had quite extensive traffic with demons and other spirits. The fortunes of my house, it has been said, are the product of pacts that they made with denizens of the infernal realms."
The bearded man abandoned his examination of the painting and began listening to the Marqués with an air of close attention.
"Unfortunately," continued the nobleman, "Don Jésus unwisely attempted to trick one of the princes of Hell, a demon named Orias. It appears that he promised the demon that he might enjoy the favors of his wife in exchange for an object that Don Jésus coveted; when Orias collected his prize, he discovered that the Marqués had substituted a servant girl for the Marquésa. The demon, angry at being deceived, infused his own demonic nature into the couple's only son, transforming him into the creature that you see there."
The woman shuddered.
"How hideous," she said, apparently forgetting that only a moment before she had assumed that the Marqués was joking with her.
"Then your ancestor must be that little girl," said the bearded man. The Marqués shook his head gently.
"No," he said. "Maria Inocencia died of a childhood fever quite shortly after that painting was created."
The American woman frowned.
"But that would mean ... "
The Marqués gently pulled the red velvet curtain back over the painting, hiding it once more from view.
"Quite so, madam," he said. "Quite so."
He bowed deeply to the woman and her husband and limped away, leaving behind him just the very faintest scent of brimstone.
Lily bounced on the chair nervously as her mother stood behind her, sighing repeatedly as she struggled to comb the unruly child's hair. Each stroke brought a fit of giggles from the fair haired, porcelain skinned cherub, and she struggled to stay still during the whole affair. She was far too excited to be bothered to sit for any length of time, let alone have her hair combed.
Lily's mother sighed once more before giving up. "Lily," she said exasperated. She looked over the messy golden ringlets that cascaded down to the child's shoulders. "How am I going to get you ready when you can't be still for one moment?" She began to comb the child's hair again, but Lily giggled and bounced and the attempt was immediately thwarted. Lily's mother sighed again and put the comb down. It was no use trying. Lily would not keep still.
Lily turned in her chair and looked at her mother. "Is the painter really coming here, Mama? Today?" she asked. Lily's mother nodded, and the child smiled. She couldn't believe her father when he told her earlier in the morning- he had hired an artist from the local village to paint Lily today. It was one of his birthday presents to her (as today just happened to be Lily's seventh birthday, which, in her mind, was a very important day.)
Lily's mother picked up a length of ribbon and wound it around the child's hair. Then she tucked two pretty red flowers into it, and spun Lily around to inspect her handiwork. Lily laughed and kept twirling- it made her white chiffon dress float up around her. Her mother turned and opened the door to Lily's bedroom, and the child went skipping out to the parlor.
The parlor had been decorated with all manners of festive things- balloons, ribbons, blooming flowers in vases, and a pretty pink cake stood on a little table in the corner. On the other side of the room, an easel had been erected and the artist set a canvas upon it. Lily ran to the corner of the room and immediately struck a pose. She heard her father's chuckle, and she turned her head and saw him standing in the doorway. She ran to greet him.
He scooped her up and placed a kiss on her cheeks. "Happy birthday, my little angel!" he said, and she threw her arms around him. "Are you excited?" he asked her. Lily nodded, and he put her down. He knelt down in front of her and took her hand.
"Now that you're seven, you're old enough to go to school. Are you happy to be going?" he asked. Lily began to jump excitedly. "Yes!" she nearly shouted. Her father laughed. "You're going to have to act like a lady now that you're older," he said in a half stern voice. She giggled. A lady.
"Since you're older, I thought it might be time for you to have a pet." Her father turned and motioned to a servant standing in the hallway. The servant led in a strange creature which resembled a bull's calf but had a strange reptilian tail. Lily gasped- a pet of her very own! She could hardly contain her excitement.
She ran to the creature. It stood still, watching her with its pitch black eyes. Lily placed her hand on its leathery head, and it snorted out a bit of flame and smoke. The child looked in awe. The thing was her pet- her very own demon.
Her father appeared next to her. "You're going to have to take care of him all by yourself," he said. He placed his hand on her shoulder. "He can be your best friend, and when your powers have been fully realized, he can be your greatest ally." He stroked the horns and the creature shook its head.
"My ally?" Lily asked. Her father nodded. "When your demonic powers awaken, you will need him to help you destroy the mortals in their world. That is why you must learn to care for him and train him now while you both are young- so that he will serve you willingly without question."
He kissed her forehead. She hugged her father, then picked up her pet and ran, half stumbling under the creature's weight, to the easel. She held him up. "I'll take good care of him!" she said as she plucked one of the flowers in her hair and placed it on the creature's horn. She walked to the other side of the easel and nodded at the artist, signaling to start his painting. As the artist began, she leaned in close to the demon's ear and began to whisper. "You're going to help me destroy the mortals one day," she said. She hugged the demon tighter. "But first you need a name." She pondered for a second, then whispered again.
"I am going to call you Squishy, and you and I will take over the mortal world." She smiled a little, and the demon shook its head and snorted a little fire and smoke as if it approved.
I should never have asked. I should never have come down here. But I must find out.
"Sir... There's a question I've been meaning to ask you since I became your clerk some five years ago," James had asked that fateful night, having just barely mustered up the courage to ask. "Yes?" The king looked more weary with each passing season, but he was just and fair, and rather fond of his hardworking new clerk.
"Umm, well, in the records... I've found some... rather odd things, things from about fifteen years ago."
I've made up my mind, I'm already down here. I might as well find for myself what's to be found.
"I presume James, that you also found her name then?" "Annabelle, yes, but who is she?" The king looked away then, a silent tear rolled down his cheek. "Do you know much of our history James?" "Yes sir, there was the long war of the last generation, our prospering and expansion, and-" "No, of our real history. Of the Daedreas." "Um, sir, those are but just tales, are they not?"
The smell of roses and brimstone. Down here, beneath the earth, yet why would there be roses? Now, to the left... follow the hall, into holding cell eight, and, yes, here's an oddly-colored wall, just like it said in the text.
"It was some one hundred and eighty years ago, I had just inherited the throne some years before at the young age of 17, just barely the age of rule, and not nearly as learned as I ought have been. Oh don't look like that, I might be showing some time as of late, but I'm older than I look. There was, and had always been up to that time, a court wizard and a court priest. The old priest had just died, and a new successor was being found. I should have been more careful in such a time, and limited my wizard, but she had been like family to me, and I knew naught of politics. She had discovered a magic, unheard of by all, and it had made us prosperous."
The wall rolled back to reveal to James a hidden door, large, heavy, and ornate, and inscribed with golden, unreadable letters that looked still fresh and new, despite their age. James opens the door, and enters a new hallway, with much larger, older bricks, but somehow the torches were all lit and smokeless, lighting his way. "How is this possible? A trick? It's like I'm being beckoned forward," he muttered to himself, already forgetting the promise to himself that is is as far as he would go if he came.
"We hid it from the people as best we could, but talk spread as it always does. We had found how to summon beasts great and small, from where I know still naught, nor would I wish to, but for each was required sacrifice. At first small minions, disguised as ravens and carrying messages, never able to be shot down or intercepted. Those required mincemeats. Later, there were experiments with more, we made spies, and cheap labor for building, and finally, soldiers. These required much blood, but good graces seemed to come in the form of a sickness, and the bloodletting practice, which I had considered banning, I made again conventional, and the borders of our country did grow by invasion."
James barely noticed the heavy door shutting behind him as he came upon the next, twice again as large. The smell of roses was stronger here, and it seemed he could almost hear music, old and faint behind it. It felt like he was being driven forward, but a primal fear in him was forming a heaviness, a black fear in the pit of his stomach. He continued onwards.
"My first wife, Madeline, had had our child and a new priest had been recently indoctorinated, one that wouldn't preach to me about our practice, which I knew was wrong, but had not the strength to stop in light of its benefits to our people. But one day, in practicing her arts, and trying to find her biggest advancement yet, my wizard Eliza was heard making a great scream in her chamber, and when some men came in to ascertain the cause, found nothing but an exquisite flower floating in a glass holdingchamber. My men took it and placed it upon a high pedestal in a hidden chamber, careful not to open the container, but over the next few weeks all who had touched it began to hear voices, and were driven insane." "What did they hear sir?"
Entering the next chamber, he found the door opened easily, as though recently oiled. He entered upon a vast library, again still lit with torches that did not burn up or smoke, and filled with many doorways to many chambers. He found himself compelled to one in particular, both the drive and his fear magnifying with each step. He knew that whatever was here lay beyond the door. Roses, the smell was even thicker here.
"They were shouting about an unfair sacrifice, they demanded something more pure. Nothing we could produce for the flower was pure enough however, and our new unholy servants began to weaken and wilt, and we fell upon hard times. My daughter..." The king's expression darkened, becoming even more somber than ever. James thought he could see the great man age before his eyes. "A-Annabelle, sir?" "Yes, well, she found the flower... At only eleven... Well, the pedestal, perhaps under influence of the flower... It crumbled upon her. She was thought dead, but the flower had gone."
A beautiful bedchamber, a tiny, beautiful, bell-like laugh. "Hello sir! Have you met fluffles?" And ever more sweet and powerful, almost foggy with heaviness, the smell of roses.
"Only she was pure enough, I suppose. The cloud lifted over the land, and though our magic was gone, I refused to hire a new wizard. Our land has prospered ever since, and for that I am glad, but.... Annabelle. She always did want a pet, though we always found it too dangerous for her. Ah, right, well the soldiers, our personal human castle guards kept disappearing, one by one, hearing screams in the night, seeing her wandering. No new grass ever grew on her grave. And one day, she was fully returned. With a new pet."
Such a pretty smile, such a beautiful young girl. Some growling behind her though, what is that? Why in the world would a girl like this be locked up here? Why, oh why, is there such a pit in my stomach? Why would there ever be in a bedchamber with such a charming young child and a lovely smell of roses?
"With her the last, and most formidable of the Daedreas. It took many of our land's greatest holy men to trap her within the dungeon and seal it off. I did, of course, what I could to make her comfortable, sent occasionally shipments of books or decorations down there as a final assignment for any suicidal or dying servants without family.
"Fluffles likes you, mister" A great beast, with footlong teeth and horns, hooved hindlegs and clawed forlegs approached, dragging behind it a great fleshy tail. It jumped into her arms, and like it weighed nothing, the little girl caught it. "Annabelle, I love the scent of roses in here." She smiled. Such a lovely smile. She and the beast both had one, one in her hair, and one tied to the horn of the monster.
"James, whatever you do though, I implore you, do not go down to the hidden dungeon chamber. You're a good kid, and with my lack of children, anybody I name could stand to inherit. However, much better men, with much better reasons than curiosity have gone down there."
His body was practically screaming at him, his stomach turning over, his muscles tensing up, his hair standing on end, but the smell of roses was too strong. there was something about flowers he just couldn't remember though. It was hard to think with this smell, but the girl was so nice, and all she wanted was for him to pet Fluffers. What could be the harm in that? There was something about those flowers though...
Lady Dent was idling between the trees in the orchard, enjoying the solace they offered. Her home was full of diplomats from the west and she was tired of constantly entertaining her guests. The mid afternoon sun burnt hot above her and she settled down in the shade of her favorite tree absorbing the tranquility of her surroundings.
The stillness was broken when she saw a small figure dressed in fine white linens dash through the trees. The girl was followed by a beastly figure about the size of a spaniel. "Ariel" she called out to her daughter. The little girl and her beast stopped dead in their tracks and sheepishly looked around the orchard to see who had caught them. Lady Dent lifted herself up and walked towards her daughter, a scowl on her face.
"Shouldn't you be in lessons little one?" she called as she approached and both the little girl and the beast looked to the floor, hiding the guilt that was plain on their faces. "The other children don't like Tiny and I don't like the other children." Ariel muttered. "Why do I have to have lessons?" she wailed. Lady Dent frowned, had she been so obstinate as a child? She wondered. Ariel's fine white dress, a gift from the visiting diplomats, was now ripped and the ends spattered with dirt. "We all have to learn little one. Ignorance will not serve you well. Come on, we should get you cleaned up and back with the other children." Lady Dent held out her hand but Ariel refused it and sulked back to castle, the beast called Tiny following at her heels.
Lady Dent understood why the other children did not like Tiny. The creature was frightful to look at and in her opinion was not an appropriate pet for a four year old girl. Her husband and her daughter disagreed. "Don't judge the thing by its appearance Julia." Her husband said the night he brought the creature back from a trip overseas. "Ariel and this beast will grow up together, they will love each other and no one will be able to harm her as long as it is by her side." Ariel loved the thing the moment she laid her eyes on it. "Oh tiny one." She gasped when she saw it for the first time. Her hands moved to her mouth to hide her excited smile. "Thank you Father. Oh thank you" she cried and ran to the grotesque bundle shaking on the floor. From that moment the two were inseparable.
By the time Lady Dent reached the keep Ariel and Tiny had disappeared from her sight. She scanned her surroundings looking for them, hoping they had not run off again while her mind was elsewhere, and spied them outside the main gate up to the castle. Ariel was holding Tiny up; her little arms stretched around his scaled waist, letting one of their visitors get a better look at his face. The diplomat, Sir Roak, leaned forward and reached out his hand to stroke Tiny's left horn. Tiny showed no signs of protest at the molestation and held himself still while Sir Roak inspected him.
"An unusual specimen you have here, Lady Dent." He commented when he saw her approach.
"Quite." She responded unable to think of anything else to say.
"Mummy doesn't like Tiny." Ariel offered and Lady Dent felt a blush rise to her cheeks. Sir Roak looked from the little girl and her monstrous companion to Lady Dent and offered her an understanding smile.
"Come on Ariel. Up to the castle with you, no more dawdling." Lady Dent said. Ariel released her grip on Tiny and the pair followed her mother through the gate and up to the castle entrance.
Abby finished her shift in the morning. She was dog tired. It had been the usual, as usual as working at a 24 hour liquor store can be. The drunks—for who else would buy booze at 3 a.m?—leering at her. A few having the inebriated courage to make some lewd remarks about her breasts; one flashing her. She looked with a smirk and said, "Honey, I've seen bigger. Best keep your coat on." Then in between reading the tabloids about rich celebrities and their parties, the high life in this only world, the only life worth living, cause when you die, that's it, no fucking point spending your time lassoing bums and other poor people.
So she walked home and cursed the world, but even that was listless and perfunctory. Home. I get to go home! Home to a tiny apartment I can't afford and, now, a recent addition I don't really want. She pictured one of the dreams of her youth. A princess. Doesn't every girl want to be a princess, and live in beautiful castle by the sea, and marry Prince Charming who will dote on me and love me forever? Yes, of course, every little girl wants that. But young Abby wanted something more. A little twist to the fairy tale; just a slight turn of the cliche. When other girls wanted unicorns and ponies, she wanted her own pet monster. A big ugly black thing with a gruesome face and sharp teeth, all the better to snarl at Abby's unkind and selfish mother, who did not stop reminding her that she was unplanned and had ruined a fun little affair by the virtue or curse of being born. Young Abby wanted her demon to protect her from all the unpleasant mothers in the world, and she would cuddle him and carry him and make Prince Charming love him. This had been her fantasy.
It had been fulfilled in a way with a normal, seven pound baby, unplanned of course, and the father had split, naturally, and so she was alone raising the thing. When she arrived home, Mrs. Carmichael let her in and gave her a pitying smile Abby tried not to notice. Abby thanked her, promised she'd be paid by the end of the week, and with dread walked into the bedroom, and looked at her son. He chose that moment to open his eyes and bawl. A word about the crying. Abby had of course known babies make such sounds and how they don't really stop, and she knew that she would get little sleep, if any, the first year, but nothing prepares you for the actuality of the thing. A tiredness so deep and so long that she felt like a walking corpse; crying so piercing that it was like a torment unendurable. There, there, baby, Mommie's here. Picking him up, she was already thinking about the front of the town church and how much time she would need to ring the bell and bolt safely away.
The woman entered the room displeased to found her daughter still awake. "Doesn't you supposed to be your nightshirt sweetie ? Oh that Maggie, I can't trust her with the most simplest task! Where is she ? I bet she is somewhere fooling around with Joseph the stable keeper" Then the mother noticed her daughter pet George, in her daughter room instead of his kennel in the darkest and isolated part of the park that surrounded their Villa. Suddenly the girl started to cry, and started to firmly hugging the abomination. The mother approached her and whispered "What's wrong sweetie ? Did you remembered to feed George ?" After quite some time the little girl found the courage to speak "Mom, promise me you don't be mad with me.. I forgot to feed George ... When I finally remembered to feed him, he was already escaped from his kennel ... Oh mom the poor George was so hungry ... I found him in the park, he was buring Maggie's remain near your roses...." . The Mom stared disapprovingly her daughter for a couple of minutes and then said: "Oh I remembered vividly a young girl looking just like you, saying to me that she was a big girl now, capable of taking care of a familiar, don't you sweetie ? Now go to bed, it's already late and Mom should be already on the road to the Sabba. All mom friends and especially Dad would be there tonight, rest assured , young lady, I will tell Dad that you aren't taking a proper care of George, and I will bring him home tomorrow to have you lectured about your witch duties"
(Excerpt from "A History of Elkath" By Alvius Daggoth)
Although demons had been used as guards and sometimes servants for wealthy merchants and lords, it wasn't until around the end of the 10th era that they caught on with the nobility as a sort of pet. By the middle of the 11th era, it was common to see minor demons on leashes in the gardens and cobbled streets of Chestire. Even the Makwen of the West, so resistant to cultural change gradually adapted this new trend and made it their own. It was not uncommon to see a Tatha or a Griin standing by the side of a prominent chief.
It is no surprise that paintings of demons caught on around the same time paintings themselves did, in the 15th era. Many lords proudly displayed such paintings in their halls. The painting above is dated to 435 of the 17th era, and shows a young Elizabeth Hadra (who would one day become the duchess of Ghanton) holding M'altket, a major Gad'rath who would become known as "The Grey Butcher" after he slaughtered 6 would-be assassins who had made an attempt on Elizabeth's life.
- What a vile hideous creature...
- I know, right? That's why we bought her a pet, to cheer her up...
"But daddy! I want MOMMY'S demon!" Her petulant tone bled through unbridled.
"Alright, Sugar, whatever you want," says the exhausted millionaire father.
Hours later, writing with quill on parchment:
"Mr. Van Helsing,
You owe me after what your ancestors did to my great uncle Vlad. I would like you to call upon our family at your earliest convenience to settle this debt."
The photographer crossed himself and slowly backed to the door. "In the name of all that is holy," he whispered, "what is that?"
Millicent's parents glanced at each other before her father said, "That's Millie's kitten." They knew it was a lie; real felines didn't have hoofed hind legs or horns or pustules. They also didn't make long, growling rants about enslaving humanity.
Still, it had looked like a kitten when they bought it, and the pet store refused to take it back, so as long as Millicent wanted to think of it as her kitten, they could play along.
psychopompous gives us a brief poem:
face of innocence
blazing eyes, teeth, talons, tail
brought to light by love