My first attempt at writing a small horror story. Let’s call it an experiment; it probably needs more drafts.
A Demon’s Garden
Every night, the demon would stand in the corner of his room and sharpen a knife. It was a shrivelled child, small and hunched, with burnt charcoal skin and embers for eyes. It smile was wicked and bright in the darkness.
It first came to Richard on the night of his 18th birthday. He had been dreaming of a small garden. The sound of the knife being sharpened against metal caused him to sit bolt upright in bed. When he saw the creature in the corner of his room, he screamed and screamed but no-one came. The demon stood quite still and made no attempt to approach him. It chuckled softly.
“Richard, Richard,” it said, its voice a throaty rasp, like bodies being dragged across gravel.
Richard could only stare in perfect fright.
“I will need you soon, Richard,” said the demon. “I will need you for planting.”
And it was gone.
But it returned. The next night, and the next, it would always be there, until Richard would wait up for it, and see it step out from a curtain that wasn’t there, and watch it shiver and smile in the corner of his room. Its teeth would reflect in the silver knife, the blade almost as large as the demon itself.
Now every night, the conversation was the same.
“I will need you soon, Richard,” it would say, its eyes narrow in its sagging face.
“When?” Richard would croak.
“Not yet, Richard. Not yet.”
When he could sleep, Richard dreamt of running. He longed for legs. He longed to wake up in a cocoon, large and warm, with walls of smooth cotton. He longed to burst free and take his first steps. Every time the demon came to him, he felt helpless. He could not run, he could not escape. He could only sit up in his bed and grip the gun he now kept beneath his pillow.
It was hard to meet a girl while in a wheelchair. His father understood. His father had passed down to him the rare disease.
“How did you meet mum?” Richard asked. “How did you get her to fall for you?”
“Whatever do you mean?” his dad replied. “I’m a charmer, aren’t I?”
“Sure,” Richard said. “But I mean… because you don’t have legs. Didn’t you find it hard to woo her from a wheelchair?”
His dad swivelled to face him. “Son,” he said, “you do not need to chase women, nor would I advise you to even if you had legs. The right woman will not care about your wheelchair. If she cares, she’s not worth chasing.”
“That’s easy to say.”
His dad smiled. “It seems like a curse now, to have less choice than your friends. But believe me, it’ll make it easier some day.”
Richard nodded but said nothing. He was twenty-two and he had never had a girlfriend.
Often Richard asked his demon: “Why do you want me?”
And always the demon replied: “I will need you for planting.”
One night Richard pressed more: “Planting what?”
The demon considered this with a half-cocked head. “I will show you,” it said, and it disappeared.
When Richard fell asleep, he did not dream of running. Instead, he dreamt of a small garden planted with saplings.
In his head, a voice said: You will help me to plant my garden.
Richard thought back: I won’t be much use. I have no legs.
The demon laughed. I don’t need you to have legs.
Richard felt oddly valued, even validated, by the demon’s words.
One night, when Richard was twenty-four, his demon disappeared. He stayed up all night waiting for it, but the corner of his room stayed dark and still. The next day he met a girl at a party.
She was beautiful and athletic and her arms were sharply defined. She caught him looking at them as she sat down next to him with a can of beer.
“You checking me out?” she shouted over the music, a grin on her face. She flexed a surprisingly large bicep.
He laughed. “I’m impressed.”
“Yeah, these guns could come in useful for us,” she said.
He wanted to ask her what she meant, but instead their conversation drifted towards sport and music and friends. She sat by him all night and didn’t mention his wheelchair until the evening was over and she was walking down the street by his side.
Lamp-posts glowed eerily in the early morning.
“So what happened to you?” she asked.
He stopped his wheelchair and shrugged. “Genetic disorder,” he said. “Same as my dad.”
“Runs in the family?” Abby said.
“Sure,” Richard replied. “It’s the only thing that does.”
“Oh shit,” Abby said. “That was a terrible choice of words.”
Richard laughed. “I’m not precious,” he said.
Abby’s flat was up a steep flight of steps.
“No lift, I’m afraid,” she said. “Told you these guns would come in useful.”
And she carried him upstairs.
After he met Abby, Richard’s demon disappeared entirely, although the garden still appeared to him in his dreams, its saplings buffeted by the fiery breeze.
The longer their relationship went on, the more he became preoccupied by another concern. Will she want to marry me? Will she risk having disabled children like me?
It took him three years to work up the nerve to ask her. He took her to the lookout point above the vale. They had to drive and they reached the hilltop by sunset. He had no knees to get down on, so he climbed out of his wheelchair to ask the question. By this point, he knew she would have worked out what was going on, and her continued smile gave him confidence. The sky was purple and the fields were cast in silver. After she said Yes, they sat on the grass, heads together, and watched the sun turn gold, until the valley was red, as if bathed in blood.
A year after they were married, Abby became pregnant with a boy. Richard worried every night and offered up silent prayers. Please, he sent. Please please please.
The day of his child’s birth was the happiest of his life. His son had legs. He felt each precious one in his hands and stroked the tiny feet. He cried with happiness and Abby cried too and they were a real family.
For the first time, Richard allowed himself to see the future with optimism. He had a beautiful wife and a perfect child. In time, his son would learn to walk, even run. They would buy a house overlooking the vale and Richard would play sport with his son in the garden. David would grow up and have a normal life, and never know what it was like to be disabled.
It was the greatest gift Richard could have given his son.
On the night of David’s first birthday, the demon returned.
“I will need you soon, Richard,” the demon said. “I will need you for planting.”
Richard’s mouth was dry. “When?” he asked.
The demon cackled loudly. “Now.”
Richard thought of the gun he used to keep under his pillow, and clenched his fists in frustration.
For the first time, the demon moved. But not towards him. Instead, it moved away.
Limping out of his room.
Richard rolled out of bed and dragged himself across the floor, gasping for breath.
There was no time to wake Abby or to climb into his wheelchair. He pulled himself out onto the landing. The house was dark except for one light shining out of one open door.
The door that led to his son’s bedroom.
Crying with the effort, Richard crawled across the landing and into the room. He found himself looking up at the demon for the first time. Still they were separated by the width of a room, but now the creature seemed bigger and closer.
A trail of blood led from his son’s cot across the floor. The demon stood in the corner of the room, shivering with pleasure. Its knife dangled from one gnarled hand, scarlet dripping from the blade. Green moonlight leaked through the curtains, casting a spotlight over the morbid scene.
Richard tried not to look at the demon’s other hand. Somehow he knew what he would see.
The creature was breathing hard. Its leathery skin rippled and its clawed feet scratched eagerly at the floor.
In its hand, it held two tiny severed legs.
“Goodbye, Richard,” said the demon. It drew an invisible curtain around itself and it was gone.
Richard lay thrashing and screaming on the floor until Abby came rushing to his side.
“What’s wrong?” she shouted, kneeling beside him and stroking his head.
He found that he was crying. “David!” he said, but even as he spoke, he wasn’t sure why he was so upset. “He’s hurt!”
Abby went to check on their son, and soon returned.
“He’s fine,” she said, her voice calm. “You’ve just had a bad dream.”
“But his legs!” cried Richard, “what’s happened to his legs?”
Abby hugged him tight. “It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have legs,” she said. “I’ve told you. We knew he wouldn’t. It’s fine.”
“But…” began Richard. “But he did have…” He trailed off, embarrassed. Of course his son had no legs. The same as him, and his father, and even his grandfather.
Why was he in his son’s room at all? He didn’t remember waking up.
Abby picked him up and kissed him on his forehead. “Come on, silly,” she said. “Back to bed.”
That night, safe and warm in Abby’s embrace, Richard fell into a deep sleep.
His dream that night was new and unusual.
He dreamt of a small garden, saplings swaying in the wind.
The saplings were human legs.