“All the Devils are Here” by M.L. Kerrick

From an early age, I have been taught that affection hurts. My parents used to beat me every Thursday evening after my father got home from work. We always used to pray before having every dinner. Holding our hands together across the table, as true families do. There was no talking during dinner because I’ve been told you should not interrupt others while eating. My mom used to slap me if I would have opened my mouth at the table.

One particular Thursday he came home late after a search, tradition must be kept regardless of circumstance, he had me go into the yard and pick a switch. He met me in my room where he proceeded to beat me five times for my imagination he called impure thoughts. The sound of the switch would be the metronome of my imagination; leading me away to see her face. The hits doubled along the years after my skin on the back thickened; he didn’t have to ask me to pick a switch, I had one ready. I’m not sure if that made him proud or angry, or both. Eventually, I forgot even how to make a sound of pain.

Sometimes I can still hear the snapping sounds of the switch cracking. He was always telling me that he loves me. He told me that the marks serve as a reminder to be a better person and he wants me to be the better version of myself because he cares about me. He told me most kids about my age that haven’t even had a father, so I was happy with mine. He told me that he cared for me, right?

Then on Sundays, we used to go to church. We never missed a week; I would see my friends sitting in the back pew, silent – always silent, with her there. My parents made me wear this tight suit and I still remember the material itching my back. The shirt underneath scratching the fresh bloody wounds from Thursday’s preaching. All this time I was thinking of how my father showed me, love. It made me realize pain is better for showing affection. Pain is more clearly and passionately expressed than love. Pain is the true form of affection: intimate, blissful, intense. Now it made sense why killing those animals in the forest felt so good. It was an act of love, I took good care of them… and I always wanted to do it again. I always was very affectionate – family trait.

The day my father died, my mother locked herself in a room for one week and did not speak to me. The only thing she said was at the funeral when she said:

“Miles, you know it is all your fault,” she whispered. “Your father is dead now. You are never going to see him again.”

He is dead now…that resonated with me. I wanted to know how being dead feels like if pain felt so good. I could sense my father was happy. I wanted to make people happy. The following Thursday after my father’s funeral, I looked for a switch, took it to my room, and turned off the lights. The suffering and the blood drips erupting from the skin’s surface made me feel like he was still there. The tradition continued every week thereafter.

Nowadays, I sell dull-colored flowers in a small corner shop; my friends visit once in a while, always silent and observing as they were in the back pew. We smile at every stranger that comes into my shop, hiding behind the scent, trying to learn to be like them. Why are people buying flowers anyway? Surely, there must be better ways of expressing your feelings.

Nonetheless, there is this one familiar stranger that I kind of fancy. She visited my shop twice and always bought dahlias, my favorite and apparently hers as well. It is rare to see women in my store. Usually, I get men dressed up in business suits, at late hours, who forgot about some anniversary. Sometimes, maybe even younger men that traded my beautiful flowers for flesh. I guess that’s what they call ‘romanticism’. I’m learning new stuff from them, but I still can’t understand how they could face rejections and keep going. Maybe I should try to be more ‘romantic’ to the beautiful stranger passing by my shop. She seems alluring and her skin seems angelic and in contrast with the shadowy brunette hair.

When will I see her next? At what time she usually passes by my shop? I want to know more. I need to know more about her.

I’m walking the same rained down streets every morning. The routinely seen faces make me sick. They all look so happy. What makes them happy? For me, it is my flowers. I’ve got to open the shop early this morning, so I better hurry up. If I get there in time, I might see her. I know I’ll see her. I see her everywhere, not that I follow her, we just cross paths often and make eye contact with a smile. An acknowledgment of our existence. Her perfume carries me. Even my flowers are envious of her scent. Better hurry now!

Got the key into the door right on time – 7:30. I proceed to arrange the sign at the entrance as an invitation inside. I’ve arranged the flowers into the morning sunlight and sprayed them with water to liven up the old petals, my friends are here to keep me company, always observant. They recommend I place the dahlias in the front, I think she might like that. Everything was set, so I’ve waited and waited. Finally, I can see a glimpse of her presence. She’s approaching and my heart is racing. She continues to pass by the front of the store giving a quick look to the dahlias placed at the windows with a subtle smile. They are her favorite. But she hasn’t come in, so there she goes again. They tell me to go after her, that I can’t let her get away. I grabbed the dahlia, stumbling over my feet trying to run out – almost knocking over the card display, chasing her with my shaking feet and sweaty palms, holding the flower tight – thought I might show a bit of ‘romanticism’. Perhaps there are different ways of loving someone. As I approached her in a rush, she turned around, looking at me and recognizing who I am, her eyes were happy to see me.

“He…Hello,” I murmured. “I wanted to give you this,” so I handed her the flower, like I’ve seen other people doing so many times. She blushed and continued saying:

“Uhm, that is very kind,” she said. “However, you see…I have a partner and we both love each other,” she added. “So, I can’t accept this flower but thank you. I’m sure you’ll find someone. I must go now. Bye!”

She turned around the opposite way making hasty steps away from me. The room began to spin, grabbed her arm out of reflex. I wanted her to listen to me.

“You might think you are happy,” I told her. “But you’ll find out suffering is much stronger than love. I can show you.”

“What the hell are you talking about!?” she shouted. “Let my arm go! Leave me alone!”

“We can both be happy together through suffering,” I said smiling. “Love is a dull concept most people take for granted while pain elevates you further.”

“Why would pain and suffering be better than love?” she wondered. “What happened that messed you up thinking this.”

“I am not messed up,” I replied bluntly. “I am one of the few that sees reality for what it is. The powerful feeling of suffering overcomes love and affection making you a better person; making you truly feel something beyond just feelings.”

She pushed me away and the flower ripped in half. Her heels were making a rapid noise on the asphalt as she was getting more far. The petals were scattered all across and she was gone. I tried to show love like I’ve seen others doing and got rejected. Surely, father was right. My friends assured me there are better ways of showing affection. Teaching her the old ways would be my pleasure. So, I waited and waited again for her to come back from work in the evening. I knew she has to pass by the store again as this was the way back to her home. They tell me next time I see her I should explain what happened and how she misunderstood me. She has to understand. It is so clear pain is a more pure gift!

Here it was, the moonlight was honoring us with her presence and the streets were empty – scattered city lights served as neon-sunshine. The rain was washing down the street dirt and everything was peaceful now. I could hear her heels approaching from the shadows. They urge me on, encouraging me, this is the moment.

“He…Hello again,” I murmured.

“Oh, no!” she said. “It’s you again. Please leave me alone!”

“No, no, no,” I replied. “You misunderstood. I have to show you what real affection is. I need to make you understand. We are bound together through suffering, so let’s feel it together.”

“You are insane,” she told me. “How can you believe we are meant to be together? You don’t even know me! And I don’t even know you!!! The only thing we have in common is that we both admire those beautiful flowers every morning, but approaching me like this should be out of the question. It’s so dark out here.”

“I know you very well,” I informed her. “I had been observing you for a while now.”

“Excuse me!?” she replied with a raising voice.

“Oh, yes,” I said calmly. “Don’t act surprised. A predator must observe prey before it decides to take initiative.”

“You are absolutely out of your fu….” she hasn’t finished the sentence, because my fist already broke her pretty jaw – too many words. I am not good at explaining, but when I’ll show her what I meant, she’ll understand.

I dragged her inside the shop, turned off the front lights and put on the ‘closed’ sign at the front door, just so nobody disturbs us. It would be a shame. She looks so pretty lying on the floor unconsciously. My friends tell me scars would suit her better than lipstick. I proceeded to show her genuine affection, so I carved up her skin. The blood sprayed all across my white roses – it was almost poetic, they approve. Why would she need love when this is the ultimate pleasure? The sharp edges of my knife were showing her how much I love her. I was starting from the face because it was the prettiest. Then I proceeded to take her finger down with my scissors, similarly how I’m doing with the leaves on my flower and they all look so pretty. I wanted her to feel pretty.

They tell me father would be proud. It was the first-time expressing affection in this manner on a human body other than my own. The ironic thing is that it felt even better than whipping myself. Hm, maybe I should show everyone how to love better. After all, they deserve to know, so I would be doing them a service. The look in her eyes started to lose warmth, so I knew she reached a better place. Finally, she understands pain and death are above love. All I wanted was to make you happy.

Father was right, there is no better way of showing affection than through pain. I cannot change what I am and I do not see any reasons to. All the other ones are so naively lost in their simpler ways of showing affection. You see, I tried being like the others, but it didn’t work. I cannot feel like they do, but my feeling is stronger. Stick to what you know; stick to your own ways. From now on, I will pass down the lesson. I have fed the caterpillar and I have whispered through the chrysalis. What hatched followed its own nature and it is beyond me – the innate darkness of human nature. This felt like the beginning of something wonderful.

My eyes opened, the ceiling coming into focus as I floated towards it. I couldn’t move my head; the sound of my breathing muffled the surrounding chatter.

“Sir, you’re going to be alright.” Said the voice from the peripheral.

“He was talking to someone, the place was empty. He grabbed my arm and collapsed right in front of me…” said from a familiar female voice.

I could see the ceiling give way to a cobalt blue sky. I know what we had was real. I see her with my friends now, sitting by me in the ambulance, comforting me with the joy I gifted her.