Polly was the daughter of either Edwina or Marietta Flipp. They did not know precisely whose as Polly looked like a bit like both of them. She had Marietta’s dark, limp curls, too lazy to twist properly. And Edwina’s thick, dark eyebrows, heavy enough for a boy yet somehow becoming on her fine face.
Honestly (and I am rarely honest) it had been so long since one of the two Flipp sisters’ babies had died that neither sister could remember which one it had been. So they both claimed Polly as their own and lived together under the roof of Mallow Row, a treacherously steep house with too many porches. Mallow Row was a house punctuated by the stony silences of a grudge, the meaningful sighs of menopause, and the breaking crockery of an argument won.
Pity the man who married Polly Flipp and won two mothers-in-law.
The Flipp sisters never agreed on anything.
Except me. They were quite intent that I would not possess Polly.
They knew about me long before Polly could see me. As I scattered bits and pieces of myself throughout her body in places she could not think to look, Edwina scattered bit and pieces of salt around the perimeter of the bedrooms. When I whispered Polly’s poetry in her room, backwards, Marietta curved her corpulent form around her rosary beads and whispered prayers. When I sat behind Polly at her writing desk and breathed into her ear until her gray eyes rolled back into her head, both of them closed their eyes as they lit candles in threes and sevens.
“It is because you never take her to church on Wednesdays,” Marietta told Edwina. Her chins wobbled, gelatin, with the depth of her fury. “You know I cannot take her when I’m at the mill.”
“Sunday communion is enough to keep hell from most girls’ doors,” Edwina said. Her voice was quite calm as she snapped the cucumber in her hand in two. “It is because you slept with her father. Your sin hangs in this house like cobwebs.”
“So did you!” Marietta retorted. They were not the only sisters in town to have slept with Polly’s father. They were the only sisters whose house held a demon, however. I was sure of it; I did not like others of my kind close by. No one likes demons, not even demons. Marietta cried bitterly into her pint of beer. “It is probably because you walked her out by the mounds. The druids did all kinds of unmentionables there, suitable for any girl to get a demon caught in her hair.”
This was closer.
“Oh, tears,” Edwina said contemptuously. “You could have drowned that demon by now.”
I withdrew from the kitchen. I went into Polly’s room, where she sat at her desk writing letters to best friend in London, and I made love to her soul until she cried out and her mothers rushed into the room.
“Oh, Polly!” they cried in unison, aghast at her disheveled state and her short breaths. “Are you all right?”
Polly’s gray eyes were unseeing as she gazed at them; the irises were starting to grow dark around the edges as I won her over. Marietta pressed Polly’s face to her ample breasts—Hell could have hidden between them—and gasped a few Hail Marys until Polly’s breathing steadied.
I leaned against the doorjam, amusement on my face, until Edwina started and stared at me.
“And speak of the devil,” she said, quite calmly, and cracked her knuckles as if she meant to fight me.
Marietta followed her sister’s gaze; her face went turnip-colored. “As I live and breathe! Get ye from this house!”
I tipped my bowler hat at them. “But I am welcome here, ladies, so set another table at dinner.”
“You are not welcome!” Marietta chortled, every word vibrating her bosom against Polly’s face, who sat up slowly and looked at the doorway to see what the commotion was. It was quite clear that she couldn’t see me, not yet, and Marietta and Edwina knew it.
“I’ll leave when the mistress asks me,” I said, with what was meant to be an ingratiating smile. The effort of it was making the entire room stink of sulphur. “So until she bids me leave, save your ‘get behind me Satan’s for another time?”
And I quit to the pantry to allow Polly’s heart to beat more slowly. Mallow Row was filled with crashing that afternoon; cabinets smacking closed, chairs dragged across floors, teapots smashed down upon stovetops.
Edwina fetched the vicar because Marietta’s priest could not be roused. Edwina threw open the pantry cabinet and presented me.
“Why, Ms. Flipp,” the vicar said. “You’ve a young man in your pantry.”
I held my wings low, removed my bowler hat and smiled insidiously. “I am inspecting the potatoes for dinner. Are you staying, Vicar?”
“I—” the vicar started.
“He is not a young man,” Edwina said coldly. “He is a demon, and he is attempting to possess Polly.”
The vicar drew Edwina aside. As I replaced my hat and tucked my wings low, I heard him kindly explaining to Edwina that he realized how fond she and Marietta were of Polly but that gentleman callers were normal at her age and that if I presented myself with all due decorum she had no right to call me a demon.
I chuckled softly to myself. I am always a fan of having men of God on my side.
After the vicar had gone, Edwina said crossly, “You may come out now. We both know what you are and we both know that you’re in there. So you may as well stop corrupting my potatoes.”
I emerged and sat myself at the table, right in front of a plate of floury biscuits; Edwina had to get another chair and set another place for herself. “So I expect we have to convince Polly of what you are.”
“I expect that would be one way,” I said. “Of course, you’re expecting that if she knew, she wouldn’t want me.” I helped myself to one of the biscuits; it turned to ash in my mouth.
Presently, Marietta followed Polly into the dining room, and Polly sat across from me. Her eyes were huge, dark, full of me. Marietta clucked her tongue and slammed the cutlery and Edwina explained the sinful dangers of marrying young and the pleasures that were to be had by a women unhindered by a beast.
“Not all men are beasts,” Polly said in her faint voice. She was looking at me; she had been all evening.
“Oh,” Edwina said, and attempted to pour gravy onto my lap as she passed the gravy boat, “trust me, this one fits quite nicely into the category.”
I burnt her hand for her troubles and we both continued to sit straight. Polly and I both ate nothing while Marietta ate enough for both of us, chins wagging remorsefully at me the entire time. After awhile, I pushed back from the table and said, “I would like to talk with Polly in the sitting room.”
“You aren’t going to be alone with her,” Edwina said.
“Perish the thought!” I said. “Of course you may come.”
And so we all trooped into the sitting room. I sat on a chair beside Polly, my knee touching hers, and I held her right hand, and I carefully told her how I planned to crawl inside her heart and her ears and her mind and devour her soul so slowly that she would not feel anything but the dull, throbbing ache of the hollow growing inside her, and then I would split out of her skin and swoop away to find another young soul to wither. Only I said it all in French, which Marietta had told Edwina was only spoken by devils, so Polly had never been taught. I’m quite certain I sounded lovely. I made sure of it.
Polly’s eyes were wide with wanting. They were liquid black enough for me to swim in.
“I need a moment with the young gentleman,” Marietta said.
I looked up, “Yes?”
“In the dining room,” Marietta said. “Excuse us, Polly.”
I excused myself and followed Marietta into the dining room. We stood beside the table, which looked like a battleground after our dinner: spilled gravy and burned biscuits hiding in the trenches of a twisted tablecloth.
“Yes, Ms. Flipp?” I asked indolently, hat in hand.
“I will teach you to speak French at my daughter,” Marietta said. And she flung her arms around my neck and pulled me to her. I barely had time to register that the feeling flooding through me was shock as her lips pressed up against mine.
Out of the corner of my eye, I was aware of the dining room door slowly opening, and Polly and Edwina standing in it.
Polly stood there, watching Marietta ravish me, and then she narrowed her cold, gray eyes and said, “You beast. Get out.”
Author’s Note: Victorians. And demons. And promiscuous sisters. For the common prompt image — anyone know who it’s by?