The Brother

The devil had come to the brother while he slept, and spoken poisonous words in his ear.

“Rise, now,” said the Devil, “and behold Me.”

He thrashed, agonised beyond the wall of sleep. “Rise!” cried the Devil. “Attend Me! Behold My radiant Glory!”

(The brother dreamed of friends from childhood, friends he hadn’t seen or thought of in a score of years, on fire and screaming his name. “Save us! Save us!”)

The Devil jerked him upright, though still it seemed he slept. The brother jerked and twisted like a plastic soldier hanging under the cellophane parachutes that parents give out as party favours. His face was serene. The Devil cackled. “Dance! Dance for Me!”

He sobbed and wailed and his eyes flicked back and forth under their lids. The Devil drew long cracked nails over the brother’s flesh, raising gooseflesh and stirring passions beyond the pallid desires of man. It seemed to the brother that fire, and not blood, flowed through his veins, and leaked from the corner of his eyes. He slept no more, but lingered in that otherworldly half-land between sleep and waking, and there hung swaying before his eyes a banner of uncertain meaning. Wasps boiled in the air around him, and he lurched after the safety that the banner seemed to promise. It fled from him, twisting in the swarming wasps that stung and slashed at his skin. Sobbing, he ran after it, while in the waking world the Devil laughed and laughed.