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In which Maud encounters Beelzebub Himself

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[Voiceover:] Previously, on Maud. Having refused to go into the garden with a cad, Maud has taken a draft of laudanum. On waking, she is disturbed by a knocking at her door. The visitor is a person from Porlock, come on business….

“Good heavens, sir. By the evidence of the number 666 tattooed on your scalp and that hint of horns, one might think you are the very devil himself, come from hell by way of Porlock. Are you indeed Beelzebub, and if so, what do you want with me?”

“I compliment you on your perspicacity, madam. Or do I mean perspicuity? Whichever it may be, I am, as you adjudge, the devil incarnate. But if you do not think it unforgivably ill-mannered, I shall put my Homburg back on my head, so you will not be unduly distracted by those demonic signs atop my cranium. We shall be better able to conduct our business if you are not goggling wide-eyed all the while above my eye-line.”

“The many and various manuals of etiquette weighing down my bookshelves, of some of which I am myself the authoress, are unanimous in declaring that it is most improper for a gentleman to wear a hat indoors, especially in the presence of a lady. Howso that may be, you can hardly be regarded as a gentleman, in light of your admission that you hail from the infernal realm of darkness. Do, please, put your hat back on. I would ring for tea and cucumber sandwiches were it not that my slovenly yet devoted maidservant, Baines, is collapsed insensible against the wainscot in my sitting-room, having taken an unconscionable dosage of laudanum earlier. I would hope that she will be up and about within the hour, if you have patience.”

“It might surprise you just how patient I can be, madam. Millennia have passed since this, our present appointment, was inscribed in my day-book by my recording demon.”

“It occurs to me, sir, that had I succumbed to the blandishments of the cad and gone with him into the garden, there to stroll and engage in a chaste yet tingling embrace in a verdant arbour, you would have come a-knocking at my door in vain. Had I been in the garden, I would not have heard your rat-a-tat. There is no doubt a lesson to me there, but one which I fear it is too late for me to digest. You will assert, I suppose, that once our encounter was written down in your day-book or appointments diary, whether yesterday or millennia ago, it was fated to happen, and no imaginable circumstance could have prevented it, certainly not a cad’s blandishments.”

“That is correct, madam.”

“I find myself frantic with irritation, then, that my resistance to the cad was not of my making, not an inner strength belying my status as a fragile and neurasthenic specimen of the weaker sex, but merely the playing out of cosmic forces quite beyond my control. I ought to clarify that my irritation is with myself, not with you. Of you I am rightly terrified, and I wait with tremulous palpitations to learn what business brings you here.”

“All in good time, madam. Porlock is a goodly distance from your bungalow, and though I be the devil I am yet prey to the aches and pains brought on by an arduous hike across the windswept moors. The promised refreshments of tea and cucumber sandwiches will thus be more than welcome, when Baines awakes from her daze.”

“Hark! I hear clattering and groaning which, if my ears do not deceive me, are the sounds of Baines regaining consciousness. I shall go at once to give her instructions. Wait there, sir.”

 “In the temporary absence of the lady of the house, or rather bungalow, I muse to myself aloud. Why, I wonder, did she not ring for her maidservant, using the broken and clunking yet effective bell installed for that purpose? It is true she may have lost her wits in my foul and damnable presence. Most people do. But it seems passing strange that she should lose her wits so irrevocably that she neglects, or forgets, the manners and mores of civilised society, and in going to her maidservant, rather than the other way about, risks bringing the social order crashing to the ground. Eek!”

“Well may you say ‘Eek!’, Beelzebub! Your confidence in your own demonic power is severely misplaced. As you are now all too well aware, I have not lost my wits. If anything, they are heightened. Thus it was that I was able to devise the stratagem of leaving the room to fetch Baines, when instead I fetched these heavy iron chains and crept in through a different door, behind you. It was the work of a moment to bind you, helplessly, in the chains, using the element of surprise. There will be neither tea nor cucumber sandwiches for you. When Baines wakes, the two of us together will drag you down into the cellar, where you will languish in the darkness, nibbled by mice, until such time as I decide what to do with you. I may hand you over to the cad, for sport. Or perhaps Baines will wish to have you help out in the kitchen, as a skivvy. We shall see. For the time being, I shall take your unholy pack of Tarot cards and stuff them into your mouth, depriving you of the ability to utter fiendish spells and abracadabras which might loosen the chains that bind you. I must say you have inadvertently provided a most amusing diversion in my otherwise tedious and uneventful day.”

“But, madam, I implore you – gaah!”

To be continued…

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

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