by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)
The first thing is the silence. It is not heavy or oppressive, but it is cool, like a concrete basement. The smallest noises seem loud in the house. The stillness reaches from the foyer to the dining hall to the parlour where the Demon Prince sits in a high-backed chair, sipping wine.
It’s a fine enough vintage but it gives him little pleasure. In fact the Demon Prince is rarely satisfied with alcohol. He is keenly aware, though, that wine is one of the many things he should enjoy, so he drinks it dutifully every day. Perhaps if he tries hard enough the pleasure in it will be made clear to him.
“Your Highness,” and he turns to see the Steward beside him, his voice a whisper of dry air. “Is everything satisfactory.”
The Demon Prince sets down his glass and nods. “Thank you.”
The Steward, like almost everything in the house, had been in the service of the late King. He is a skeleton with burning coals for eyes. The Demon Prince doesn’t know whether his father created him, or if he already existed before he entered the house. He is unimaginable as anything other than a servant.
Many things in the house are like the Steward: it seems impossible that they should not always have been the way they are, even though the Demon Prince himself remembers a time when everything was different, when the halls were loud and brightly lit, and music in mysterious time signatures could be heard everywhere in the house.
Those times are gone now.
The Demon Prince empties the last of his wine and surveys the room. Blue Snake Woman is curled around herself in the corner of the room, next to the fireplace. Her transparent eyelids are half-closed in a way that suggests she is close to sleep. Bad Luck, as usual, is sitting beside her, belly bulging with his last meal.
There is a knock on the door.
The Demon Prince sighs. Only one person ever knocks on the doors of this house.
“Wackowski. Come in.”
Paul Wackowski opens the door and waves. “Hey, everybody,” he says. “Hey, DP. What’s going on?”
“I’ve told you not to call me that.”
“Oh, come *on.* What kind of a name is ‘Demon Prince?’ At least DP sounds like something you would name your kids. Lighten up!” Wackowski shake his head. “Anyway, I got the stuff. Food’s in the kitchen, everything else is still in the hallway. Should I bring it up?”
The Demon Prince shakes his head. “Leave it. We’ll deal with it later.”
“You sure? It’s no trouble.” Wackowski fishes into his jeans pocket. “Oh! By the way, I got this for Bad Luck. Catch!” Out comes a little rat, and he throws it across the room.
Bad Luck catches it in his teeth. He grins and bites down, and there is a moment of a squeak, then silence. He rips off a piece of the rat, shakes Blue Snake woman awake, and places it tenderly in her mouth.
“How kind,” she says, and swallows. “Thankssssss.”
Wackowski just shakes his head and grins. “You crazy kids.” Then he takes out the pencil that he keeps tucked behind his ear. “Okay. Anything special for the next order? I’ve been talking to the butcher, he says he can get us a special deal on carcass if we’re buying in bulk. I’d go for it – even if you only eat half, we’ll still be saving money.”
“That sounds reasonable. We shall take it.”
“Awesome. Okay, I know I’ve forgotten something – right! Yeah! The dry cleaners’ lost your velvet cape. They’re going to reimburse us, so if your measurements from last time are still right, I can find you a new one-”
“I thought you liked that cape?”
The Demon Prince shakes his head ruefully. “I have no use for a cape.”
“Well.” Wackowski looks as though he plans on arguing, then simply shrugs. “Uh, if you say so, DP. Now. Uh, about the reupholstering…”
The Demon Prince considers himself to have three courtiers. They are not particularly witty or charming, but he finds them more than excellent company.
The first and oldest of the three is Blue Snake Woman. As her name implies, her body below her breasts is that of a colossal sapphire-blue snake. She has nostrils but no nose, and pits below her eyes to sense heat, like a viper. She used to be in the habit of going naked. Now she complains of the cold, and wears a black ski jacket at all times. Sometimes she is a little aloof, but she can also be pleasant, even playful. The Demon Prince knows nothing of her life before she entered the house.
The second was named Bad Luck by Blue Snake Woman, since he cannot speak to name himself. Bad Luck appears to be a young boy with long, matted black hair. His clothes are hand-me-downs from when the Demon Prince was young. There is an open wound in his stomach that bleeds and weeps pus but never closes. From the way it glows when in shadow the Demon Prince believes that Bad Luck is possessed. Although the wound must cause him pain, he is consistantly good-natured.
The third courtier is Paul Wackowski.
Wackowski is the delivery boy for the house. But delivery boy is far too narrow a title – better to say that Wackowski handles all contact with the outside world, from groceries to repair work. He is paid from the wealth of treasure stored in the attic. He has another job in the warehouse of a supermarket, but apparently it pays badly. Therefore the bulk of his time is taken up with making arrangements for the smooth running of the house.
He has what the Demon Prince has come to think of as an average mortal appearence. He is of medium height, slightly bulky, with dark hair, brown eyes, and a face that shows emotion easily. He wears faded jeans and a t-shirt that always has some ridiculous slogan on it.
Wackowski, unlike his other two courtiers, is perfectly comfortable talking about himself. The Demon Prince knows that his family are Polish, and that he has three sisters and a brother, that they grew up without a lot of money. That both his parents are still alive and healthy. That he had planned to go to University, but settled for work instead, and has always regretted it a little. That he tries to read books and do things outside his job to ‘keep from going crazy.’ That this is the best job he’s ever had.
That night he brings out a game of Twister and teaches everyone to play. The Demon Prince chooses to be in charge of the spinner. Blue Snake Woman wins every round, although she can only touch three circles at a time and occasionally must balance all her body weight precariously on the tip of her tail.
“Beginnerssssssss luck,” she says, with a toothy grin.
The Demon Prince watches as Wackowski bends backwards and his shirt rides up to expose his abs. He wonders if this is happiness, and if so, how long it will be in his possession.
Sleep falls over the house.
Blue Snake Woman sleeps on the red carpet in the hallway. Stretched out to her full length, she spans the space from the foyer to the main staircase, a full twelve feet. Bad Luck sleeps beside her to keep her warm, with a bedpan under his stomach to catch his blood. The Steward does not sleep but stands in the kitchen with the coals of his eyes extinguished.
The royal bedchambers are dusty. They have not been used for years. The Demon Prince, when he sleeps, lies on the tiled floor of the large meat cooler adjacent to the kitchen.
In the time of his father there were mortal corpses hanging on every hook. Gutted like fish, relieved of their entrails, they dangled there in rows waiting to be filleted by the chef. Then they would be grilled or roasted and served rare on a silver platter.
But the Demon Prince does not eat human flesh. The smell of it cooking turns his stomach. The only things kept in the meat cooler now are chicken and rabbit carcasses for Blue Snake Woman, who swallows them whole by unhinging her jaw, and occasionally slabs of animal meat too big for the refrigerator. Bad Luck catches his own meat. No one else in the house eats.
Wackowski when he comes for dinner eats mainly what the Demon Prince eats – beef, fish, sometimes game meat. Often he cooks it himself. “You guys always do the meat too rare,” he says, “and anyway, I’m not a great cook, but don’t you want a change of pace sometimes?”
So they end up eating tacos or ginger beef stir fry. These are things the Demon Prince had never tried before, but he finds them surprisingly good. Sometimes he even asks for seconds.
Once he brings a knapsack with him full of flour and sugar. “Ever made cookies?”
“Never,” says the Demon Prince, but he allows Wackowski to usher him into the kitchen and teach him how to beat eggs and butter and lay out little balls of dough on a greased baking sheet. Neither of them have much talent. By the end of the night Wackowski’s hair has turned powdery white and dough is caked under his fingernails. They come out of the oven with a smell that wafts through the entire house.
“Try one,” says Wackowski, grinning.
Because the Demon Prince has never eaten a cookie before, he has no idea what to expect. The sweetness overwhelms him and he feels sick. He doubles over with coughing.
Wackowski bends down beside him, an expression of guilt on his face. “Oh, shit, DP,” he says, “are you okay? I’m sorry, I didn’t even think about… Can you even eat stuff like this?”
“I’m… fine.” The Demon Prince wills himself to be calm, experience the flavour without letting it master him. It’s not so hard after all. “It’s good.” He licks his lips and feels a crumb catch in the cleft of his forked tongue. “Very good.”
“Glad you like it, man.”
Only belatedly does the Demon Prince notice that Wackowski’s hand is resting on his shoulder. The tips of his fingers are very square. One of his thumbs is bruised under the nail. This is the first time in many years that the Demon Prince has not flinched away from the touch of another, but he does not even wonder about this.
From this night on he associates the smell of cookies – although he does not smell them often – with Wackowski’s hands. He also looks back on this moment as a strange source of comfort during his nights in the meat cooler.
The Demon Prince, when he sleeps, sleeps like the dead.
Sometimes he dreams of Wackowski hanging on the hook above him, Wackowski’s blood falling drop by drop onto his cheek, and congealing there.
There are many ghosts who inhabit the house. Foremost among them is The Disfigured.
Her eyes are lovely, her eyebrows delicately arched above them. No one ever notices this because of the horror below them. The lower half of her face is riddled with tumors, a swollen, bulging mass of flesh, her nose and mouth distorted as though they have been turned inside out. Her head is too heavy for her body and she staggers about the mansion weeping.
She had not been here visibly in the time of the late King, but he always had a way of keeping things hidden when they did not please him. The Demon Prince believes that she, and the others of her kind, are mortals who were wronged by his father. Certainly there is no shortage of these.
Mortals who came to the house were quickly gone again. They were hunted for sport, eaten, raped and thrown away, cast into the darkness outside the back porch never to be seen again.
He remembers that he had a mortal nursemaid at one time. She would tend him when his mother was gone, or when she was too strung out to remember him, which was more and more of the time as he grew older. This nursemaid must have had some strange quality that made her undesirable to the guests of the house. She rarely spoke, but her eyes betrayed no fear of the sights of that place.
When he first made himself come, she was the one he went to for help. His own lack of control had frightened him. “I… made a mess,” he whimpered, eyes filled with tears and hands sticky with semen. “I don’t know…”
“Shhhh,” she said, taking him onto her lap and holding him. “Don’t worry. Nothing’s wrong.”
Later she explained to him that this is only natural and he must not feel ashamed. His mother, lying on the couch across from them, had laughed her agreement. From then on he was not scared of touching himself.
This nursemaid was at his side for what seemed like many years, but she, too, eventually disappeared. He has never seen her among the ghosts. Perhaps she has gone on to something better, although his mother had once told him that those who have entered the house once face great difficulties in escaping it, even in death. This proved to be true only for some – certainly not for her, who has disappeared without a trace.
The first time Wackowski sees The Disfigured staggering down the hallway, he stops dead in his tracks. The Demon Prince wonders if this will be the night he leaves for good: maybe this will prove to be the one thing he cannot bear of all the things he has seen in the house.
But then he grins at her, rather awkwardly, looking her straight in the face. “Uh, hey. What’s up?”
“She doesn’t-” says the Demon Prince, but as he speaks he realizes that The Disfigured has ceased her passage through the hallway and her eyes are focused on Wackowski.
Wackowski holds out his hand. “I’m sorry about your face. You must be in a lot of pain. But if it helps, I think you’re pretty anyway.”
The Disfigured’s eyes fill with ghostly tears. The grotesque bulge of her face stretches as though she is trying to smile. Silently, she lets her hand pass through Wackowski’s, and stays there until little by little she fades away. After that she is not often seen in the house, and does not cry any longer.
The Demon Prince could have told her that he has that effect on people.
When he first met Wackowski it was shortly after his father left and he was scared. Never having been alone in the house before, the sight of the empty corridors terrified him. The perpetual houseguests had all fled for greener pastures. Only The Steward remained, and the ghosts, and they never spoke a word.
The Demon Prince was not a child any longer, but he was still young at this time and did not know very much. He grew hungry but could not bring himself to leave the house even to find food. He could only sit propped up against the great front doors and wait for something he didn’t really think was going to happen.
At first he thought he had imagined the sound, but when there was a knock on the door, he knew it was real from the way it vibrated through his chest.
“Anyone in there?”
His voice failed him.
In desperation, he curled his hand into a fist and knocked back at the inside of the door.
“Can you get out?” The voice stopped for a moment. “Okay. Hold on a second.” The door shuddered once, then again. The Demon Prince barely had time to crawl back into the hall before the rusty hinges broke off and the door which had seemed so solid came crashing down.
At the now-empty doorway stood Paul Wackowski, very out of breath and rubbing his shoulder ruefully. The Demon Prince had never before seen anyone so unremarkable in appearance.
“Hey,” he said, and then, “Oh my god, are you okay? You look sick, man. How long have you been in there?”
The Demon Prince sighed. “All my life.” Then the situation suddenly seemed funny to him, and he chuckled.
“Okay, uh, just don’t go crazy on me. When’s the last time you ate?” Wackowski pulled a package from his pocket. “I’ve got some beef jerky. Do you think you can do that? Should I call the hospital or something?”
After this encounter The Demon Prince wondered why Wackowski hadn’t even been fazed by seeing a demon for the first time. At first he thought the young man might be simple minded, or crazy, before experience showed him otherwise. But at this time he was merely grateful for his presence. The beef jerky tasted like nothing he’d ever eaten before.
“This is good,” he said, shocked.
Wackowski smiled and extended his hand. The Demon Prince was too out of it to object. He allowed himself to be helped to his feet.
“I’m Paul Wackowski. What’s your name?”
In time, Blue Snake Woman slithered in to take shelter, and after her followed Bad Luck, seeking to escape the nightmare of his own existence. But Paul Wackowski was the first of the courtiers to find that place. Without him, the Demon Prince would likely have eventually pulled himself together, found some way to survive when his instincts took over. But perhaps that would not have been a life worth living.
The Demon Prince does not like to be touched. When he was a child no one ever touched him except for his nursemaid and his mother, who on rare occasions leaned down to pat his head or take his little clawed hand in hers. These were the touches he accepted. Now that they are gone he has no interest.
He remembers being a child and sitting at his father’s side presiding over orgies in the grand hall. Creatures of every size and description danced, drank and fucked on the black marble floor to the sounds of eerie music played by a six-armed guitarist. Their eyes were glazed over from the incense that hung in the air.
Looking out over the crowds, the Demon Prince could see his mother riding bare-breasted on the shoulders of a minotaur, watching in delight as he licked the neck of a veiled woman and penetrated her from behind. When she noticed him watching, she smiled and blew him a kiss. He shivered.
“One day,” said his father, gesturing out towards the mass of writhing bodies, “all of this will be yours.”
Dread had risen up in his stomach. It was then he knew that he was not fit to be his father’s son.
Of course he holds no orgies. The Vampire Princess – his half-sister or cousin, he doesn’t know which – has been a better heir to the late king in that regard; he knows only second-hand, but her castle halls are apparently filled with courtiers every night of the year. She holds lavish banquets where they feast on mortal flesh and dance until their feet swell nearly to bursting. He does not begrudge her these parties. He prefers his house silent.
He knows that some have considered him beautiful. But he sees nothing beautiful at all about his appearance: the slitted pupils of his eyes seem to him garish, his skin too pale, too dry. His tongue, though split, is thick and graceless like a mortal’s, doesn’t flicker to taste the air like Blue Snake Woman’s. There are only humps on his shoulderblades where wings might have been. He has spurned any, male or female, who might have wanted him.
There is only…
There is one night when he is waiting for sleep and hears a rustling in the corner of the room. He sits up and turns to look immediately, but there is nothing there, and he tells himself he is only becoming paranoid. He is almost asleep before he notices a strange, ticklish feeling across his wrists and ankles. He tries to sit up, but finds himself held fast by sticky white cords.
Then the cords go taunt, and he finds himself suspended above the cooler floor, trapped in – it can only be a web.
The Demon Prince is so unable to believe that this is happening, he doesn’t even struggle to free himself. He only closes his eyes and waits. He has endured many things already in his life; he can endure what is to come.
A hissing sound echoes in his ear. The web vibrates: its creator is descending towards him from the ceiling. One furry leg brushes the back of his neck, then traces the curve of his spine to the bump of his tailbone. Then it repeats the gesture.
Slowly he comes to understand that the creature is trying to soothe him. Several of its legs are stroking him now, petting him as one might a cat. The Demon Prince is completely unprepared for this gentleness. He relaxes, then shudders as he realizes that he is becoming hard. This entire situation is so unreal there seems no point in fighting his arousal.
Something slick and bulbous slips between his legs. He feels completely detached from the pain as the thick tip enters him. The rest follows after a moment, thinner and segmented. As it begins to slide in and out of him he identifies it as another leg. Then something stirs in the pit of his belly and he doesn’t think about it anymore.
The Demon Prince does not open his eyes the entire time the creature is fucking him. With some effort he breaks his wrist free of the silk cord, but it is only to reach down and take himself in hand, jerking off to the rhythm of its thrusts. His breath comes only in little hisses. It doesn’t matter if he loses control, if he opens his legs a little wider and cries out when he comes, because nothing exists outside this moment.
As he is shaking with release, the bulb at the tip of the creature’s leg bursts and shoots liquid inside him. He shudders as a rivulet trickles down his thigh. The leg pulls out of his body.
What feels like a tongue licks his face, very gently, as if the creature wants to kiss him but cannot. The tenderness of the gesture undoes him where all else in the encounter has failed. He starts to cry.
The Vampire Princess appears as a girl of about his age or a little younger. Her hair is ash blonde, her eyes are blood-coloured – not the brown of dried blood, like his are, but red as fresh as though she was bleeding from her pupils. She wears lipstick in the shape of a heart on one cheek. Her clothes are all ruffles and satin. She is never seen without a lace-trimmed parasol.
The Demon Prince has known her since childhood and not once in that time have they gotten along.
Unlike him, the Vampire Princess often travels outside her castle walls. If she hates him so much, there is no reason for her to visit the house, but she often does: maybe just to taunt him, or to look back with fondness on the days when his father the King kept court. Wackowski says that she probably resents him for some reason. He also says that of all the people he knows, the Vampire Princess is the most pretentious, and that nothing she says is of any value.
Today she is wearing an emerald green sash with the words “La Vita Dolce” traced across it in spindly handwriting. The Demon Prince finds this rather ridiculous. She regards him impassively, and he tries to do the same but can’t quite manage it.
“How’s life in this dull little corner of the world?” she asks.
The Demon Prince does not take the bait. Instead he rises from his armchair and bows. “Always pleasant to see you, cousin. Would you like something to drink?”
“You know my tastes.”
“I’m afraid you will have to make do without them.”
“Some host you are.”
The Vampire Princess sighs. “You’re so boring,” she says. “You know, you could really do something with this old place, but you’re letting it go to waste instead. Look how it’s falling apart!”
“It is my house and I shall do as I like with it.”
“The whole thing is going to ruin.” She gestures around the sitting room. “Look at all this junk. It should have been replaced ages ago. Doesn’t it resemble your life? Second-rate? Your courtiers are ugly cast-offs, and your only contact with the outside world is an unamusing mortal who bakes,” and she hisses the word, “*cookies.* You don’t even invite people to dinner, let alone throw parties! In what way have you proven yourself worthy of this house?”
“…The house belonged to my family.”
The Vampire Princess laughs. It’s more of a giggle, really. “Your family?” her voice drips sarcasm. “You don’t know the first thing about your family. For instance, you know you’re a bastard?” And so are you, likely, he thinks, but before he can say it she continues. “And not just a bastard but a filthy half-breed?”
“That’s right. The King raped some mortal woman and you were the result. Everybody knew it. No wonder you’re so boring, you’re practically a mortal! You’re not worthy of his title *or* the house!”
Having said her piece, she smiles triumphantly, exposing her fangs. And there is nothing the Demon Prince can say to wipe that smile off her stupid hateful face.
In the kitchen the Steward busies himself with the preparation of dinner. In the parlour, Blue Snake Woman and Bad Luck lie curled around each other in companionable silence like two halves of a whole. In the meat locker the spiders weave delicate webs across the ceiling. The Demon Prince is in none of these places.
Wackowski finds him in the attic. He is not usually up here, but there is a portrait of his mother kept in a cardboard box. He needs to see it.
He cannot believe he never noticed how unalike they really look. The Queen was tall and voluptuous, with long yellow hair. Her eyes had no iris and in some light seemed multi-fauceted; her wings were transparent, light as air. She resembled a queen bee. His father the King was massive, imposing, so it’s not as though he takes after him. He must be like his mother, then… With all his might he tries not to remember the appearance of his nursemaid.
“Hey,” says Wackowski softly. “DP. You okay?”
The Demon Prince tries to swallow away the lump in his throat. “I’m fine,” he says, but it comes out all wrong, like he’s not fine at all.
Why shouldn’t he be… human? It explains everything about him. His frailty, his inability to measure up. His feelings of worthlessness. His terror of both becoming and not becoming like the King. No wonder the house is destroying itself around him, with only a mortal for its keeper.
“I wasn’t her son,” he says, gesturing to the picture. “She must have hated having to keep me.”
Wackowski shakes his head. “That doesn’t make any sense, and you know it,” he says. “She must have kept you because she loved you.”
“Sometimes I get so scared.”
“DP, you need to lighten up.”
The Demon Prince glares at Wackowski, baring his teeth. “Don’t call me that!”
But Wackowski isn’t affected by his anger. “It’s okay,” he says. “You know you don’t have to be like your parents.” His arm settles on the Demon Prince’s shoulder. “Listen, I like you, okay? You’re smart, you’ve got a sense of humour, you’re really nice, sure you could have a few hobbies or something, but… you can just be yourself.”
“I… You like me?”
“Yeah, I like you. I like you a lot.”
The Demon Prince remains perfectly still as Wackowski leans forward and kisses him lightly on the forehead. He does not find the touch unpleasant. It feels as though something has woken up inside of him, as though perhaps he is coming to life for the first time.
“I. I like you too.”