Please, Ivan Ivanovich, tell us something scary! Ivan Ivanovich stroked his moustache, cleared his throat, smacked his lips, moved closer to the inquiring ladies, and began to tell his story.
My story begins, as do most traditional well-written Russian stories, with the phrase “I was drunk that day.”
It happened after the New Year’s Eve party where I celebrated with one of my best friends, and I got as drunk as a fish. In my defense, I should say that I had a good reason for getting drunk on that night. I believe it is a worthy pursuit for people to feel happy on New Year’s Eve. Every coming year is as bad as the previous one, the only difference being that in most cases it is even worse.
I think that during our traditional New Year’s Eve parties people should fight, be miserable, cry, and attempt suicide. One must remember that each new year leads you closer to death, the bald spot on your head spreads, the wrinkles on your face grow deeper, your wife gets older, and with every new year you have more kids and less money.
As a result of my misfortunes, I got drunk. When I left my friend’s house, the clock tower struck two o’clock in the morning. The weather outside was nasty. Only the devil himself could tell whether it was autumn or winter weather.
It was pitch black around me. Although I tried to look as far ahead as I could, I could not see anything. It was as if someone had put me in an enormous can of black shoe polish. It was also raining cats and dogs. The cold, sharp wind was singing terrible, horrifying notesâ€”howling, moaning, and squeaking, as if an evil being were conducting an orchestra of nature. The mud stuck to my shoes with every slow step. The few streetlights that I accidentally encountered on my way resembled the crying widows one would see at funerals.
She dimpled at him and obeyed, with the soft suggestion of accent that was like a tender confidence. Her feet were sunk in Devonshire grass; her name was on the birth register of a little Devonshire sea-town; yet the sun of France was in her veins as surely as his caress was on her lips.
Therefore she said “George” with a sweet dragging sound that greatly fluttered the sensibilities of the person addressed, and not infrequently led them to alight, like Prince Dummling’s queen bee, on the very mouth of that honeyed flower of speech.
Now Plancine put her cheek on her George’s rough sleeve, and said she,—
“I have a confession to make—about something a little silly. Consequently I have postponed it till now, when it is too dark for you to see my face.”
“Never!” he murmured fervently. “A double cataract could not deprive me of that vision. It is printed here, Plancine.”
He smacked his chest hard on the left side.
“Yet it sounds hollow, George?”
“Yes,” he said. “It is a sandwich-box, an empty one. I would not consign your image to such a deplorable casket. My heart was what I meant. How I hate sandwiches—misers shivering between sheets—a vile gastronomic economy!”
The Devil, also referred to as Satan, is best known as the personification of evil and the nemesis of good people everywhere. His image and story have evolved over the years, and the Devil has been called different names in various cultures, including Beelzebub, Lucifer, Satan, Baphomet and Mephistopheles, with various physical descriptions including horns and cloven hooves instead of feet. But this malevolent being—and his legion of demons—continue to strike fear in people as the antithesis of all things good.
Although the Devil is present in some form in many religions and can be compared to some mythological gods, he’s iarguably best known for his role in Christianity. In modern biblical translations, the Devil is the adversary of God and God’s people.
It’s commonly thought that the Devil first showed up in the Bible in the book of Genesis as the serpent who convinced Eve—who then convinced Adam—to eat forbidden fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge” in the Garden of Eden. UAs the story goes, after Eve fell for the Devil’s conniving ways, she and Adam were banished from the Garden of Eden and doomed to mortality.
Many Christians believe the Devil was once a beautiful angel named Lucifer who defied God and fell from grace. This assumption that he is a fallen angel is often based the book of Isaiah in the Bible, which says, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations.”
Names for the Devil
Some biblical scholars, however, claim Lucifer isn’t a proper name but a descriptive phrase meaning “morning star.” Still, the name stuck and the Devil is often referred to as Lucifer.
Names for the Devil are numerous: Besides Lucifer, he may be referred to as the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Baphomet, Lord of the Flies, the Antichrist, Father of Lies, Moloch or simply Satan.
The book of Ezekiel includes another Biblical passage Christians refer to as proof of the Devil’s existence. It admonishes the greedy King of Tyre but also refers to the king as a cherub who was once in the Garden of Eden. As a result, some Bible translators believe the King of Tyre was a personification of the Devil.
The Devil makes more appearances in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. Jesus and many of his apostles warned people to stay alert for the Devil’s cunning enticements that would lead them to ruin. And it was the Devil who tempted Jesus in the wilderness to “fall down and worship him” in exchange for riches and glory.
The Devil in Other Religions
Most other religions and cultures teach of an evil being who roams the earth wreaking havoc and fighting against the forces of good. In Islam, the devil is known as Shaytan and, like the Devil in Christianity, is also thought to have rebelled against God. In Judaism, “satan” is a verb and generally refers to a difficulty or temptation to overcome instead of a literal being.
In Buddhism, Maara is the demon that tempted Buddha away from his path of enlightenment. Much like Jesus of Christianity resisted the Devil, Buddha also resisted temptation and defeated Maara.
In people of almost any religion or even in those who don’t follow a religion, the Devil is almost always synonymous with fear, punishment, negativity and immorality.
The Devil and Hell
Perhaps the most lasting images of the Devil are associated with hell, which the Bible refers to as a place of everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. Still, the Bible doesn’t state the Devil will reign over hell, just that he’ll eventually be banished there.
The idea that the Devil governs hell may have come from a poem by Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, published in the early fourteenth century. In it, God created hell when he threw the Devil and his demons out of Heaven with such power that they created an enormous hole in the center of the earth.
“Ambassador Holliwell died here today. The end came suddenly as the ambassador was alone in his study…”
There’s something ungodly about these night wire jobs. You sit up here on the top floor of a skyscraper and listen in to the whispers of a civilisation. New York, London, Calcutta, Bombay, Singapore—they’re your next-door neighbours after the street lights go dim and the world has gone to sleep.
Along in the quiet hours between 2 and 4, the receiving operators doze over their sounders and the news comes in. Fires and disasters and suicides. Murders, crowds, catastrophes. Sometimes an earthquake with a casualty list as long as your arm. The night wire man takes it down almost in his sleep, picking it off on his typewriter with one finger.
Once in a long time you prick up your ears and listen. You’ve heard of someone you knew in Singapore, Halifax or Paris, long ago. Maybe they’ve been promoted, but more probably they’ve been murdered or drowned. Perhaps they just decided to quit and took some bizarre way out. Made it interesting enough to get in the news.
But that doesn’t happen often. Most of the time you sit and doze and tap, tap on your typewriter and wish you were home in bed.
Sometimes, though, queer things happen.
One did the other night and I haven’t got over it yet. I wish I could.
You see, I handle the night manager’s desk in a western seaport town; what the name is, doesn’t matter.
There is, or rather was, only one night operator on my staff, a fellow named John Morgan, about forty years of age, I should say, and a sober, hard-working sort.
He was one of the best operators I ever knew, what is known as a “double” man. That means he could handle two instruments at once and type the stories on different typewriters at the same time. He was one of the three men I ever knew who could do it consistently, hour after hour, and never make a mistake.
Generally, we used only one wire at night, but sometimes, when it was late and the news was coming fast, the Chicago and Denver stations would open a second wire and then Morgan would do his stuff. He was a wizard, a mechanical automatic wizard which functioned marvellously but was without imagination.
On the night of the sixteenth he complained of feeling tired. It was the first and last time I had ever heard him say a word about himself, and I had known him for three years.
It was at just 3 o’clock and we were running only one wire. I was nodding over reports at my desk and not paying much attention to him when he spoke.
“Jim,” he said, “does it feel close in here to you?”
“Why, no, John,” I answered, “but I’ll open a window if you like.”
“Never mind,” he said, “I reckon I’m just a little tired.”
That was all that was said and I went on working. Every ten minutes or so I would walk over and take a pile of copy that had stacked up neatly beside his typewriter as the messages were printed out in triplicate.
On first viewing the two-story semi-detached on Lansing Close, Helen Rutledge dismissed outright the absurd but overpowering impression that she was not welcome here. She was a sensible young woman – all right, no longer all that young – who routinely privileged the should over the was. This should be the perfect house for her; ergo, it was. Three bedrooms, for herself, a study (perhaps in time a nursery?) and guests: tick. Not one of those decrepit Georgian headaches whose renovations were hogtied by preservation orders, the structure was at least postwar: tick. Granted, the nondescript semi of yellow brick was located in deep south London, but any property whose purchase someone in Helen’s income bracket could swing was bound to involve a hefty commute to a job in NW1. Indeed, that was the clincher: the house was a steal. Tick, tick, tick!
As for whether she harboured any reservations about 21 Lansing Close having been repossessed, the answer was certainly not. A tax accountant, Helen held rules in high esteem, second only to those who followed them. She had no sympathy for people who didn’t exert control over their circumstances – who allowed their lives to go all higgledy-piggledy and so created messes for responsible citizenry to clean up. For Helen, the prospect of being unable to pay any bill slipped through her letterbox was mortifying. If the previous owner had purchased a property beyond his or her means, such culpable foolhardiness ought rightly to be punished, and that’s all there was to it.
Given the paltry asking price, or paltry in London terms, she was surprised to face no competition, and the estate agent acting for the bank accepted her offer with a hastiness that more seasoned house hunters might have found alarming. But as a first-time buyer, Helen wasn’t about to look a gift house in the mouth. She would continue to rent her flat in Dulwich for a month after completion in order to do a spot of sprucing up. The persistent unpleasantness that imbued the interior – nothing that you could put your finger on, nothing that you could explain, and therefore nothing – could surely be ameliorated with a few licks of paint.
Handy for her gender and generation, Helen spent her first Saturday as a landholder covering the sitting room walls in a vibrant, nervy colour that she’d found in the Guardian Weekend’s interior design pages: a dazzling aqua popular for plastic toys. By late afternoon, a beaming second coat had obliterated the sombre underlying shade, a light grey with a queasy purple undertone, as if the room had been bruised. Even if the new paint job hadn’t, somehow, settled – the panels of blue-green seemed to float slightly forward of the plasterboard – she’d introduced a splash of vivacity to the ground floor.
She returned the following morning to have a go at the skirting boards. Yet her key simply would not turn the upper lock, though she jiggled it this way and that for a solid 10 minutes. Whoosh up the homeowner’s learning curve: when it was your property, you couldn’t ring the landlord to come and fix it, and Helen fought an urge to cry. The house didn’t like her and didn’t want her inside.
The sensation of personal rejection being flagrantly ridiculous, she got a grip and located a locksmith on her mobile, then sat on the step to wait. It was autumn, and she noticed too late that a scraggly tree growing at a deranged angle overhead had dropped stinky violet berries on to the step. The seat stained with purple blotches that would never wash out, now her jeans looked bruised as well. Worse, once the locksmith rocked up, he tried the key once and the door swung wide, open sesame. He still charged a call-out fee, quite a packet to part with for the privilege of feeling like a dunce.
Rest in Power, Beverly Leslie, aka. Leslie Jordan or vice versa. He was a light to the LGBTQIA world and beyond. Without him Karen Walker would be less fun—and with his “Well Shit. How y’all doing?” hunkerin down videos on IG the pandemic was a little easier to get through each day. Well, well, well…we miss you already, bud. #LeslieJordan
“A Set of Chessman was originally published in the April 1890 issue of Cornhill Magazine. The story reprinted here is from the original source (archive.org). The story was subsequently published in a now rare collection of Marsh’s called Both Sides of the Veil (cover below).
I became frustrated with planet Earth today. It was episodic. And intense. And a lot like being in charge of who’s head goes next in a Charles Dickens yarn. From Mar Vista to Mar-a-Lago—the murder of Anne Heche which is being covered up and no one is talking about: it shows me people are afraid of something; and the rifling through a former American President’s ‘compound’ to discover confidential US documents—apparently on display for friends and wayward staff (declassified by Donald himself, and relocated to said compound by White House staff)—well, that shows me something, too: people are afraid of something. And so. And so. And soooooo I walked into town. I downed a Dairy Queen Buster Bar. The big one with the peanuts. Then, I strutted down Main Street, and ducked low into a dim alleyway and through a hedge and into the wee bookstore, like a spy on the lam. I grabbed a couple reads for a cool $20. A lavender lattee and a whole lot of intense shadowy Bad Juju dissipation later (“You don’t wanna see me with the house lights on.” #RobThomas), I am reading about our nation’s first President, and discussing his life with a little jade plant I named Honey. History must comfort me. And plants and books do share common ancestry. Anyway. Anne Heche—I will not forget. And Mr. Washington, Sir, will you take care of this shit in DC and Florida, please—by the sword, General, if you must. And, Honey, dear, will you pass me my lavender latte?…and a long extension cord? 🔌⚡️✌🏻
I’m deeply troubled over the death of this woman. I cannot place my intuitive finger on why. But I will. Funny this book is not available anywhere on the Internet all of a sudden. The actress died recently in a supposed auto fire that took 59 firefighters a long time to put out. As she was being put into the ambulance, however, she was caught sitting up, where she appears to be naked, not burned, and trying to unstrap her left leg. She was strapped to the gurney. She is pushed back down by a paremedic, and put quickly into the ambulance; and no one ever saw her again. I say no one because that’s what they consider us viewers and receivers and experiencers of the media in this country. They consider our intellects weak. And that is unfortunate. Rest in Power, Anne. May Karma toll her great balancing bell for you, dear, soon; clearly and loudly. 🤟