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A mango tree stood. Sagely. Wisely. Waiting. A mango tree nestled in the fine pure grass, sunlight streaking through. Bursting ropes, torn frayed knots dangled from a mango tree like gutted fish in a market. Candyland. Is what the backyard seemed like to Her. Inside could be a wasteland of sharp words and ragged gray rocks… But here in Candyland… Birds sang. Sunlight burst. And soft grass grew through the cracks of tree roots, of a mango tree. No one would bother Her in Candyland, Fantasy World. No one could bother Her here.
But Her knew it was all a play, a farce. Her knew the birds that sang were not real. Mechanical wings and metal heads held up the illusion of life, of hope. Sunlight would turn into dusk, and green grass shriveled into yellow sticks, although it held up the illusion of a smile. Candyland’s smile. stretched from corner to corner, brimming with realism and peace with teeth showing and eyes wide. ‘Twas a happy smile.’ Her would think to Her self. But it was fake too. Teeth were laced with spiders and mold, lips cracking. Candyland was not what it seemed to be, that farce. Although it was pretty, it was nice; Her understood that it was only a mask to cover up the Inside, where Sir and Madam dwelled. Where fear and cold sweat dwelled.
Where scars and welts. Dwelled.
With Sir and Madam.
But as for right now, Her let Her face color with delight in the clouds, instead of turn sickly with pallor. Her frail, 8 winters old body and wild blue eyes absorbed the only sunlight Her has ever seen. Nowhere was sunny. Her has never seen Sky, anywhere except Candyland. Her has never seen birds nor trees nor grass nor life – anywhere except Candyland, housing that mango tree. Her’s never been – anywhere except Candyland. And the Inside.
“Her!” Sir would shout. “Get Inside!”
Her never protested, although They had promised They’d let Her be when in Candyland. Her did not delay. ‘That would be incurable.’ Her would think, before going inside. ‘I must obey, for then Her would be incurable.’ Her did not delay; Her knew it was a cover. A mask. For the Inside.
Resting on a bed of straw and logs in a small cabinet, Her found Her could not sleep. Voices were whispering to Her, but Her could not quite tell what they were saying. Faint wisps of things like ‘come, listen, serve…’ filled the air, turning sour. Her could have sworn Her saw a face… Under a cape… Black..cape. Looming over her bed. But Her knew it was not a real face, a human face, a mortal face. ‘It must be a ghost,’ Her decided, pleased with the very thought. ‘How nice for one to visit Her. I shall welcome it with the utmost reverence and zeal, for maybe it shall make Her a ghost too. Maybe i’twill make Her a ghost too… Make me a ghost too….’
The ghost reached out a long bony arm, pale skin stretched taut over thin bones. ‘Come, Her. Your time has come to serve the Prince of the Power of Air. The Ruler of Darkness. Come. Accept.’ Her’s eyes glittered with passion, her curiosity piqued.
‘Is this an invitation to His Demon?’ Her asked, breathless with anticipation.
‘Precisely. The Lord Your Ruler hath needed your soul. You have a choice, Her. If you accept, you agree to let the Prince of the Power of Air control every aspect of your being forever..and always. Everything of yours is His and He moves through you effortlessly to His liking. You have been chosen. Now make a choice! Become a servant willingly, or become a demon no more useful than the specks of dust on His cloak. Make a choice…’ The ghost breathed, raspy
Her beamed. Her could not fathom what an honor it would be to serve His Darkness… Her had been selected. Out of all the people…
Her could not have obliged more readily. Her tilted Her head back, black curls tumbling down Her’s shoulders. ‘You have my soul.’ Her whispered ceremonially. ‘I hath given Her’s all to You, O Ruler of the Deep…You may take my soul and form it yours.’
It was done.
The ghost-demon made a shrill, screaming noise, fading into Her, fetching Her’s soul for the Lord. Her was dizzy and sick with movements… Jerked side to side, and pulled from the inside. Her could not take this much longer, Her would be sick. Then, stillness. And Death entered Her’s soul.
Sir and Madam prattled on in the light of the morning, finally broken, and juice finally poured. Her would not get fresh bacon nor juice. Her was not allowed, but instead fled to Candyland and the mango tree. Standing sagely, wisely, waiting. For Her.
‘I am going to the backyard.’ Her said mechanically. ‘Do not call for me, Her will be busy. Do not call.’
‘Excuse me?’ Sir leaned over the Sunday paper, astonished Her had dared to draw Her own boundaries. ‘You’ll come when your bid to come, and you’ll be whipped when your ‘served to be whipped.’
‘I will be busy.’ Her repeated.
‘Doin’ what?’ Sir demanded, perplexed.
‘Do not call; I have work to do in Candyland… I have work..’
Madam spoke up, not to be shamed by the tone toward her husband. ‘Now you’s don’t come cryin’ to me about work to do. He**, I’ll put you’s ta work if you’s don’ wanna whippin.’
Her got up silently, pulled open the screen door, and let it slam shut behind Her. Sir merely exchanged glances with Madam, brows raised. That girl would receive the belt later, when Her’s eyes were shut and Her’s body lax. Her would not get away with this. Sir was not to be shamed.
More voices. They sounded just like the ghost-demon. Coming from the stone fence, on the back wall. Her’s eyes glimmered with purpose. The time had come to serve Her Lord.
Listening to the whispers through the stone, Her’s hands coursing over the rocks, Her found it was impossible to make out the actual words – but Her knew wha-twas to be done.
Crack! An earthquake of Her made the leaves shake and sticks break away, cracking into a million pieces. Her did not know the majestic mango tree could be so delicate… So brittle. Her had only tried to tear the broken ropes away from the branches… Her hadn’t that much force…?
Her walked – automatically, without conscious direction – into the mango tree, yet again. All the rope fragments and frayed knots were stripped of the tree. It didn’t matter that some branches came away with it. Now Her heard The Lord speak. For the 1st time. Directly to Her.
‘See… See the dead mango hanging from the tree? ‘Tis ailing it. See the mold dripping from the mango? And the worms sliding through it? Ailing the mango tree. Ailing the World. Pick the mango, my darling. Take it away from the world. Pick the mango.’
Her did not need a reason, nor telling twice, to pick the dead mango from the tree. It would simply be because Her’s Master said it would. There was no desire for a reason. She reached up and touched the dead, sickly mango, the stem snapping crisply from the branch. For looking so morbid, it sounded so fresh… It was almost unbearable to touch, glowing black and blue with abuse and mold… But what befuddled Her was that there even was a dead mango on the mango tree. There has never been a dead mango on that particular tree before. It was always fresh, always good, bearing pure, sweet fruit every time. Since when had the mangoes begun to die on the branches?
But it didn’t matter. Her had picked the dead mango, leaving it to rot on the ground, contaminating the fine grass. The mango did not matter anymore.
The front door slammed shut, clanking against the cheap frame. Heavy footsteps plodded through the hall, turning small lights on. Sir had finally come home at 3 in the dawn-time. He was never late, nor ever had a reason to be out at such a time, anyway. Her, who found could not sleep again – nor attempted to – laid awake, aching in the makeshift bed, straining to hear. Madam’s voice was hushed, but spoke out in loud interjections during the conversation. Where had Sir been? Why hadn’t he called? What was he doing, wherever he was? He tried murmuring back, so as not to wake Her and- God forbid! – Her overhear the discussion.
‘I…I-I can’t tell q-quite where I was.’
‘What in Sam Heck is that s’posed to mean?’
‘I… I’m not… quite..sure. I-I heard this noise out front, and I went to go check to see what it was.’
‘But then,’ His eyes flashed with a certain unknown pleasure for a split-second, recalling his flooding emotions. ‘It was like I was… not in control of myself anymore. What I was doing was not my intentions…’
Voices rose. ‘If you’re even implyin’ you’s went ta Sefferson’s house, you’d best be getting’ a shovel and a nice spot out back.’ Madam warned, wagging a finger at him.
‘No, no! I wasn’t…. Implying.. that. I mean, I did go to a house, but… I didn’t know whose it was. And I wasn’t sure what I was doing. All I knew was that I had a nice, shiny thing in my hand, and it was… making a wonderful noise. Like music. Then my cloak was drenched in this mahogany shade and I heard a dreadful, splitting screaming looking up at me after the musical noise. Then I left. That’s all I recall.’
‘You sure you’s wasn’t sleepwalkin’?’
Then, the voices hushed again, and more footsteps went down another hall, to the Master Bedroom. Her did not make any sense of this, but found no reason to. Her could not think of any connections or relevance Sir’s story had… Other than Her shared the same unknown pleasure, right when Sir had mentioned it.
Someone was missing from school the next day, but Her would have never known; for Her was not allowed to go to school, even though it is considered cruel not to do so. The absentee was a girl named Carol - a bright, hard-working girl always making amends to injustice in the social world. There was not a soul she didn’t try to get along with, or like. There was not a thing she said she couldn’t do without some help and determination. She was also never seen at school again.
There was much to do – in the fall days under the service of the Prince of the Power of Air. There were now two mangoes to pick. There were now two more dead mangoes. Sir’s company had recently had to elect a new boss – one had suddenly vanished. He was a well-liked man.
The deceased boss’ daughter went into a restaurant, ordering her favorite dish – what she usually asked for. The molding fruit rotted her tongue out until she was on the floor coughing and hacking up blood. Then lying still. Her heard about these mysterious happenings from Sir, who happened to debate loudly about it. ‘Twas simply a coincidence, he had decided. Her paid no attention. What did this affect her?
Sir turned the volume up when the surveillance camera played on television. It was beautiful, the sound she made when she choking on the floor.
More, more, more work. Every day, more mangoes were rotted on the branches. Every day, the branches became more brittle, ready to break at the whisper of wind. Every day, His Murderer had work for Her to do. Pick a mango, let it rot. Pick a mango, let it rot. Slice a vein, trace red on the wall. He wished for the whole of the stone wall to be red. Crimson red. Blood red.
A black rose stood. Drooping. Falling. From the vase that gathered the thin, twiddling stem. So many black roses in one month… So many sermons… So many… tears. Her absolutely reveled in the joy. For Her could not quite place what felt so great about the roses, about the black sleeping cabins to be buried within the ground. But it felt so good. What was so uplifting… and almost cheery…about the gray veils and sniffling noses and engraved stones. Her’s skin had never glowed more radiantly. Because of the black roses.
Half the city was wiped out. The Silent Epidemic, they called it. So many unexplained deaths… murders. Sir was out late til around 4 in the morning almost every night now, but Madam didn’t question it, the newfound fear she did not want to face her husband. The frightening truth she did not want to hear. And Her knew better than to ask Sir of any his private affairs, for Her would surely get a beating.
Her was picking mangoes by the dozens now, each one with enthusiasm and excitement for who would die next. There was no doubt in Her’s mind anymore, Her was certain that the mangoes must have caused the deaths and disappearances. Each rotting mango was another soul, rotting likewise, and would be better off plucked out of the earth.
Sir slept with an axe under his bed. It was like a musical sound… Every time he used it.
But now Her was almost done with the work His Lordship assigned her to do. His soul speaking through her endangered, disastrous heart. Her needed to saw off all the branches Her could find, save one branch on the bottom of the mango tree, two live mangoes dangling from the stems. The last two live mangoes Her would ever see.
But Sir was on Her’s case. He had heard Her talking in Her’s sleep, about service, debt to the demons and the Satan. About her duty and the wastes that needed to be cleaned up by Her as a courtesy to him. Sir needed to confront Her, and not be afraid, although Her’s very hands were the ones that chose which beings to live… and which to perish.
Reaching up, watching Her’s fingers, Her delicately plucked the sickly mango hanging from a stick, on the left side of the tree. In that instant, Madam’s heart quit, blood freezing in its tracks, on the kitchen floor, knocking down a pot of boiling water she had been holding. It then rose up and dropped, covering her body in boiling hot water. Her skin oozed, bubbling up with the water like wax. Dead.
Her could not help but giggle under her breath. All the pain, all the deprivation, all the evil she had suffered under 9 years had drawn to a close. His Darkness was a wise Demon, to punish a wretched woman such as she. A wise Demon to punish a woman… Such as she.
There was only one more person, in the way of The Desired Kingdom the Lord had spoken to Her about one night.
‘Help me, Her. Help me become Lord of this World, and the next, and you shall be my queen to rein Candyland, together. Help me unite this Kingdom with all the evils and demons and ghosts. Like you. Like me. But there are people trying to keep us from achieving our goals… People you’ve loathed. Such as she. Help me, for there is one more undesirable to dispose of, and then, only then, will you please me.’
That. Was Sir.
His pace quickened, heart pounding in his chest. Sir knew he would only be able to kill Her when she was least expecting it – in Candyland. Sir knew that she was causing the deaths one way or another, although all he had seen her do was pick fruit from their mango tree. The grass was littered with rotting mangoes. She could pick the very last one, and somehow, he couldn’t imagine how, he would drop dead, with the blood still coursing through his veins, and his head still spinning. He couldn’t imagine why this would work, or why he had to be one of those mangoes, but he was. And he had to stop Her before Her wiped out the remaining people that could think for themselves. The rational people. And he was the last one left.
Bursting through the screen door, panting, Sir exclaimed ‘Put that arm down!’
He would win this battle.
Startled, Her’s arm hesitated, then rose again to the last branch with the last stick, holding the last mango, already dead on the stem. Her was inches away from killing him, achieving Her’s goal. But Sir had a plan as well. Drawing the dagger from behind his back, he poised his aim.
He would win this battle.
Then, a dark figure flashed before Her, ragged black threads billowing out from the ghost-demon’s cloak. The Prince of the Power of Air. Sir’s knife clinked to the ground. Satan Himself so appeared before Her, guarding Her. Sir’s temper suddenly flared, subconsciously revealing the root of his unknown pleasures.
‘It was you who forced me to kill in the middle of the night!’ Sir cried out wildly, not even knowing where his words came from.
Lucifer replied coolly, expectant. ‘Of course, who do you think held that power, this little girl? Her does not yet, but in good time… Soon and very soon,” He directed his attention back to Sir. “You have done my work, humble fruit. But now it is time for you to be picked… And let go. You served me well.’ He added with a little nod.
Then, Sir understood. ‘But… But… I was possessed!’ he exclaimed, not knowing what this argument would win him. ‘You possessed me and used me and now I am going in a garbage dump like one of those rotting fruits!’
Satan nodded again. ‘So it appears to be so. But now, your time has come. Her?’
Her reached up gingerly, feeling every touch. The feel of the light fuzz on Her’s fingers, the tingles they got. It made Her shudder with pleasure. Slowly, ever so slowly, pulling the fruit from the stem. A worm wriggled in the hearth of it. The first fibers of the stem had broken. It was hanging on by a mere thread. Broken.
The man, the formerly abusive, non-foreseeing possessed man called Sir. Had died.
The stone wall was a pure, deep red now. There was an abundance, a bath of Sir’s blood.
‘Well done, my servant. My Her.’
A mango tree stood. Sagely. Wisely. Waiting. Broken.