Authors: Graham Joyce
Tags: #Science Fiction
How to Make Friends with Demons
© 2008 by Graham Joyce
Originally published in the U. K. as
Memoirs of a
by William Heaney
This edition of
How to Make Friends with Demons
© 2009 by Night Shade Books
Cover art by Mike Dringenberg
Cover design by Eugene Wang
Interior layout and design by Ross E. Lockhart
All rights reserved
Night Shade Books
All sorts of people contribute to a book but I particularly want to mention the assistance of Simon Spanton at Gollancz UK; Dan Byles for military fact-checking and advice; Matt Weiland and Peter Crowther and for publishing the short story out of which this novel grew in The Paris Review and Postscripts magazine respectively; Chris Fowler for his influential short story "At Home In The Pubs Of Old London"; Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade books; Gary K. Wolfe at Locus magazine; my wife Suzanne for outstanding editorial insight and proof reading; and finally to The Pixies for "This Monkey's Gone To Heaven".
"Down there everyone lives folded
within himself and torn apart by his regrets."
A description of hell given by a possessed man to
Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican's Chief Exorcist.
There are one thousand five hundred and sixty-seven known demons. Precisely. Okay, I know that Fraser in his study claimed to have identified a further four, but it's plain that he's confusing demons with psychological conditions. I mean, a pathological tendency to insult strangers in the street is more likely caused by a nervous disorder than the presence of a demon. And chronic masturbation is what it is. I suspect that Fraser didn't even believe in his own case studies. I think he just "discovered" four new demons so that he could peddle his bloody awful book.
I should know: I did after all go to college with him. (One time he got me so mad I broke his nose, and I'm no fighter.) In any case, I prefer Goodridge's original study and his much stricter category of definitions. I like strict definitions. Right, I'm going to footnote it for you, but just this once: firstly because I hate the messy intellectuality of footnotes and secondly because, as you will know, it was Goodridge himself who brilliantly identified that the footnoting affliction is itself demonic
and is the cause of much of the madness and disorder you find amongst university academics. What's more, it's a particularly nasty species, attracting to itself the company of several other fourth-or fifth-level infestations; and as anyone with any knowledge of this area will tell you, once you let one in, the gate is wedged open for the rest.
I'd been clean for twenty years or so before I picked up my latest demon. I don't even know how it happened. All I know is that it first attached to me in a pub in central London, and that it was embedded long before I could cut it out with the scalpel and ammonia of disciplined thinking. Disciplined thinking: listen to that. It's me I'm talking about.
I shouldn't have been thinking about demons, but that morning before it happened I found myself in one of those meetings which is really a kind of slow and agonising descent into death. The meetings where your thoughts drift like whisps of cirrus over the Pennine hills on a lovely summer's day. Two hours of rapture led by a Home Office junior minister on the subject of Young People and Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Half a dozen civil servants in designer suits with creases sharp as paper-cuts, their
outcome capability frameworks
exploded by the spectacular and eccentric interventions of representatives from the Scout Association, the Girl Guides, the Woodcraft Folk, the Youth Clubs and some foggy entity called the British Youth Council.
"A sense of decency," insisted the representative from the Scouts, prodding the table in front of him as if squashing an ant. "A sense of knowing what's right from what's wrong." His name always escaped me, because I was distracted by his peppery but neat moustache and the fabulous, burst-fruit condition of his puce face. He didn't actually work for the Scout Accociation any more. He'd been retired fifteen years, but they still trotted him along because he "liked to stay involved." Nothing wrong with what he was saying, either, it's just that it was
he said, and at
meeting. He prodded the table again. "Basic decency."
Collectively we are what is called a "think tank." I like that. It makes us feel strong. It's just that the tank, having rumbled onto the beach of reason, has tumbled into a sand-trap and is lodged face-down in the wet mud, its clapped-out engine smoking and its gears grinding noisily but without any sense or hope of traction.
, I thought,
this is going to run way past lunch.
I mean, it's important enough, this think-tank work. We all get to feel vital, central, when guided through the high security of the glittering steel Home Office buildings in Victoria and escorted to a meeting room of blonde wood tables, every place primed with plastic bottles of sparkling mineral water and Glacier Mints in tiny ceramic dishes. But it's the usual agenda: youth is going to hell in a handcart, again, and oh dear what can we do to stop it?
"A greater sense of responsibility and recognition," professed the lady from the Youth Clubs. She was wearing a very smart lilac beret, even indoors. I've no idea why; it wasn't cold.
But the most astonishing thing was the sight of the junior minister taking notes and engraving his face with lines of earnest sincerity, as if the words "decency" and "responsibility" had just been minted fresh. Never ever ever been said before. The bugger even wrote the words down on embossed government notepaper! Not that any of us were fooled for a second. Just as with emails from Nigeria and certain ebullient young women, you can be sure it's a trap. When all the contributions had been made and noted, the junior minister's second assistant laid out the latest government initiative for which our support was invited. Note that it was our support that was invited, not our comments.
It was a community service plan designed to engage disaffected and unemployed youth in semi-voluntary activity. It was linked, we were being told, to a greater recruitment drive for the Territorial Army.
Oh no, I remember thinking, where are we going tomorrow? Iran? Syria?
Its seems incredible to me that the government can recycle the same "initiatives" every seven years, even if they railed against those very ideas when in opposition. The junior minister's second assistant then took half an hour to roll it out, like a carpet in an Arab souk, smiling fanatically, trying to get you to take home something you neither want nor can fit in your luggage. He managed to weave the words "decency" and "responsibility" into his presentation three or four times, rewarding the old Scout and the slightly less old Youth Clubber with plenty of steely eye contact.
I personally have opposed this drivel more than once over the years, but I've learned my lesson. The eager young man from the Woodcraft Folk clearly hadn't.
"We don't want soft conscription. We want p'litical responsibility. Real decision-makin'. This is jus' patronising."
The junior minister glanced at his watch and started talking about new paradigms in politics and not waiting around for people stuck in the fossilized formations of the past. This was my cue.
"Well, minister, I think there's a lot of radical thinking on offer here, plus some complex issues which need to be sifted. I recommend we all go away and reflect very deeply on both the opportunities
the risks involved in this paper."
The junior minister beamed at me. Even though I don't have the power to open or close these meetings, he knew enough about committees to hear the final whistle being blown, and he was thankful. Papers were shuffled and we were on our feet, leaving the old Scout to look around as if he might have nodded off and missed something.
The truth of it is I found out a long time ago that if I spoke up against these briefings my influence with funding bodies was buggered and the people who I represented lost thousands of pounds in grants.
I tried to get out fast, but the old Scout hung me up to talk about decency. The young man from the Woodcraft Folk swept back a forelock, eyeing me as if he couldn't work out whether I'd just rallied to his cause or knifed him in the back. The bereted lady from the Youth Clubs was meanwhile bent on tipping Glacier Mints into her handbag.
Nodding ferociously, I disentangled myself, rode the lift down to the ground floor and skimmed my security badge back to the receptionist. Then I was out and hurrying to the banks of the Thames, filling my lungs with the odours of its tidal mud. You can only sell your soul once and mine had gone so long ago that on that day I didn't even hear the whisper of its ancient lament.
By the time I got to Bloomsbury I was late, but I found a minute to buy a copy of the
from a hoary street-vendor with a sleeping dog. Not because I'm a nice person but because it was November, pinching-cold out, and I have a phobia about homelessness. I folded the paper to fit into my coat pocket and stepped out of the crisp, chilly lunchtime air and into the street-corner Museum Tavern, a pub—rather unsurprisingly—located directly opposite the British Museum.
The place was bustling. I glanced around but didn't see the person I was looking for. There is a mirror in there reputed to have been vandalised by Karl Marx. It warms the cockles of my heart to think of the father of Communism trashing the joint after a few pints of Victorian wallop. In the mirror I saw someone rising from a seat and advancing towards me.
"Billy! What you having? La Belle Dame Sans Merci?" It was the poet Ellis, rising from a tiny scratched and polished round table in the corner near the entrance. I drew up a seat and lowered myself into it. No one calls me Billy, but I didn't say anything.
Ellis fell back into his own seat with a bit of a thump. "Get the poor sod a glass of house red, will you?" he said to his lovely companion, a slender woman in her twenties with whom I'd already made a point of avoiding eye contact.
"The Pinot Noir would be the thing," I qualified, shooting an over-the-shoulder glance at the girl while unwinding my silk scarf.
Ellis waited until she was engaged with the barman before asking me, in an underbreath, "Well? Have you bloody well got it?"
"Sadly, no," I returned, with an inflection of my voice designed to irritate him.
"So when will you be getting it?"
"Ah! That's kind of you." My wine had arrived chop-chop. The young woman handed the glass to me so delicately and theatrically that I detected the training of a ballerina or a mime artist. Our eyes met briefly. She had dark lashes and green irises grained with nut-brown. I felt a squeeze of disgust when I thought of Ellis enjoying her, he being only five years my junior; and then that sentiment was trailed by the usual stab of envy that in turn generated a species of regret followed by a chill of boredom at the way in which every pretty face I met could yank my chain and engender this domino-sequence of emotions. In response I did what I always do: I poured wine on it all.
"Is that okay for you?" she asked me.
Interesting accent. Modulated old London working-class, I'd call it, but buffed up a bit and been around the world. Not unlike me. "It's very okay. Thank you."
"I think it's bloody great," she said, taking a sip from her own glass of—I guessed—vodka and tonic. "This thing you do."
"Aw, shaddap," Ellis said to her.
"He's an old cynic," she said, nodding at Ellis before placing—with a delicate click—her glass on the scarred table. "But you change people's lives."
"For God's sake!" Ellis protested. "He's older than I am. And more bleeding cynical."