There were once 3 demons sat in a hole at the end of the world and they were very bored. They had deep, cruel eyes that could read the naked hearts and minds of any human or beast; they could run, jump and fly around the world in the time it took a drop of their acidic saliva to hit the ground; and they could devour any creature in the world, tearing the flesh off their bones while the heart – the juiciest morsel of all – was still beating n the skeleton…
And yet they were utterly bored.
‘Anyone hungry?’ said the white demon with slanting green eyes, licking the scabs on his thin, springy legs.
‘What’s on the menu?’ asked the fat, yellow demon whose head was one big mouth.
‘Anything on the earth.’
‘Had that yesterday.’
‘What about if we go and start a war between the humans?’ the blue demon lisped, a slithering blue creature that never stopped writhing around.
‘Do you really think they need our help with that?’ the white demon sneered, squeezing out the pus from his foot and slurping it up.
And so they sat about in their stinking hole, picking at themselves, fidgeting and slithering about; masters of the earth and with nothing to do.
‘Wait – I’ve got it! the yellow demon announced with a loud fart, ‘We’ll play a game!’
‘Which one? I-Spite?’ the white demon asked excitedly.
‘Hide and Shriek?’ the blue demon hissed.
‘No. Treasure Hunt. We’ll take turns at stealing whatever is most important to the humans.’
‘Great! I’m going first!’ the white demon declared and with one spring of his scabby legs he was gone.
In a matter of moments he was perched on a rooftop of one of the great cities of the world, a cloth sack on his shoulder, studying the humans to see what they would miss the most.
‘They love looking at things, he observed to himself, I could take all their eyes… not very subtle though. Got to be cleverer than that. Ha! I’ve got it!
The yellow and blue demon awoke from a lazy nap to see the white demon scramble in the hole, splattered with red spots.
‘Been in a fight?’ the blue demon inquired, his tongue darting about curiously.
‘No! I’ve gone and stolen the colour red! It’s all here!’ the white demon snorted, slapping down his full sack, ‘You should see ‘em! No more pretty sunsets – the sun looks like a bit of ash going down! No more kissing – grey lips like old iron aren’t very inviting! And best of all, everyone keeps burning themselves on fires the think have gone out! What a laugh!’
‘You’re nothing but an amateur,’ the yellow demon sighed, ‘Let me show you how it’s done.’ He inhaled deeply, slurping in the air greedily and his already swollen belly began to inflate and he drifted up off the ground and out of the hole. Then, hitchhiking on a passing wind, he was blown thousands of miles through the sky in a heartbeat.
He came to a halt floating above a marketplace in Africa. He watched for a while and saw that though the humans had to work to make a living, they got through their day with plenty of smiles and laughter to keep their spirits up. This really is a doddle, he thought and opened up his sack.
Back in the hole, the white and blue demons heard the sounds of muffled giggling as the yellow demon approached.
”That dumb glutton. He’s gone and forgotten about the game and just brought back some kids for lunch!’ the white demon snarled.
‘Oh no, I haven’t – though I did stop for a snack in a playground on the way home,’ the yellow demon admitted as he landed softly, the ripples of belly fat settling one on top of another and a smirk spreading across his face as the other demons stared curiously at his sack. ‘I’ve stolen all the laughter in the world! Now when something funny happens the humans try to laugh but nothing except tears comes out – beat that if you can!’
Simpletons. The both of you. To take what the humans value the most you have to understand what holds them together. Just watch.’ The blue demon slid out of the hole, his body hugging the ground jealously and in a moment he was gone.
Unlike the other two, the blue demon didn’t need to sit and think about to steal for he’d lived among the humans since the earliest times and knew full well what was most important to them. Opening his cloth sack, he crawled through the world and stole all the stories.
A World Without Stories
‘Stories? What difference is that going to make?’ the white demon scoffed.
‘Can’t even eat them.’ the yellow demon sniffed.
‘Fools! Stories are what held their whole society together. Without them their world will come apart at the seams. Just watch.”
And to the grudging admiration of the white and yellow demons, that’s exactly what happened. Without stories to inspire them, the humans stopped building and creating. Without stories to help them see the world from another’s point of view, everyone blindly believed that they alone were right. And without stories to teach them the lessons of the past, people just went and made the same mistakes again and again and again.
Without stories to help them see what they had in common, the humans began to think only of themselves. Without stories to teach them values, everyone did exactly as they pleased without a thought for anyone else. Without stories to connect them to the deep, magical mystery of life, people began to lost all hope and will to carry on.
Families fell apart, strangers fought in the streets, people robbed, bullied and cheated one another and the only thing left for anyone to believe in was ‘every man for himself’.
Now, it happened that a little girl about 8 years old called Libi, sat on the balcony of her house and watched the chaos in the streets below her sadly. What happened here? she asked herself. But she didn’t know so instead she looked up at the sky and asked what happened? What happened? What happened? over and over until she fell into an enchanted sleep.
In her dream she saw three disgusting demons sitting in a deep hole somewhere with drips of a colour she couldn’t remember ever seeing splattered on the ground. They were taking turns to sip from a cloth sack and falling to the ground in hysterics afterwards. Then, from another sack, they pressed their ears close and listened intently, quite absorbed in whatever it was that they heard.
Those rascals, she thought, It’s all their fault. Awaking, she knew at once what she had to do. She filled her lunch box with apples, cheese and biscuits and set out to take back what had been stolen.
Liby’s Long Walk
Under normal circumstances, it might have seemed strange to see an 8 year old girl walk out of the town and into the fields alone. But no one knew what was normal any more and were too busy looking after themselves to pay her any mind.
Libi didn’t know where the demons lived but guessed that it was probably not on any map so she just walked steadfastly on, day after day, allowing the winds to guide her. The land grew empty and bleak as the miles passed, plants dying out and all things beginning to blur around the edges. The sky became a haze that seemed to fade into the land so there was no long anything you could really call a horizon and, though there was always light, she could no longer see the sun in the sky.
On the 7th day of her journey she thought she saw a small creature dart across her path and disappear down a hole. She stood very still and after a few moments a pair of gleaming eyes could be seen in the darkness of an underground tunnel, sizing her up. Presently, out stepped a white fox, so perfectly suited to his environment that Libi could only see him at all by his eyes and his shadow on the ground. The fox stared at her intently and finally said:
‘Where on earth do you think you’re going?’
‘To take back what was stolen.’ Libi replied simply.
‘Ah yes, I heard about that,’ the fox replied, licking a paw attentively, ‘And what makes you think that you can get the demons to give back what they’ve taken?’
It was a simple question but it was proof of Libi’s simplicity that she simply hadn’t thought about it. She just knew that it was the right thing to do, that was all. How she was going to accomplish it had never occurred to her.
The fox couldn’t read minds but the little girl’s face was an open book and he wondered at her utter lack of guile. He was a creature that had learned to be crafty in order to survive and to see a creature as painfully naive as Libi touched him to the core of his fox’s heart.
‘Listen to me,’ he said, ‘If you go there unprepared then those demons will have you for breakfast before you can open your mouth.’
‘Then what should I do?’ Libi asked.
“You must learn the weakness of demons!’ the fox said with what might have been a smile. The, looking both ways to make sure no one was watching, he leaned forwards and whispered in her ear.
A Guessing Game
The demons had had a rather fun morning. First, they’d thrown red all over each other – which really wouldn’t have been that funny except that they’d drunk deep from the sack of laughter – and now that they’d calmed down a bit, they were about to squeeze out a story from the third sack when an unfamiliar scent wafted in from nearby.
‘I don’t believe it.’ the white demon growled, ‘I can smell-’
‘Little girl!’ the yellow demon said, patting his belly, ‘And I smelled her first!’
‘Sss, wait,’ the blue demon hissed, who was more sensitive than the other two, ‘This one has more to give us than just a snack. Let’s see what she wants.’
And so it was that Libi saw the three demons crawl out of their hole, the first a mess of infected scabs and matted hair, baring his razor sharp teeth; the second a repulsive yellow belly with a mouth on top, openly drooling at the sight of her; the third less terrible in appearance but somehow more frightening by the intensity of the penetrating reptile eyes with which he stared at her.
‘Hello.’ she said, resolving to overcome her fear by being friendly.
‘Hello? You don’t say hello to certain, terrible death!’ the white demon snapped. ‘You don’t say hello to a demon who’s about to suck out your eyeballs.’
‘Or squash you into chutney!’ the yellow demon added, licking his lips.
‘Or drink your blood sip by sip.’ the blue demon threatened.
‘But then we wouldn’t be able to play a game.’ Libi said cheerfully.
‘A… game?’ the white demon asked, his voice quavering a little.
‘Yes, it’a a guessing game. If I win then you must give me back everything you’ve stolen and promise to leave us alone. If you win-’
‘Yes?’ the yellow demon belched.
‘You get to eat me for lunch.’
‘We could eat you anyway.’ the blue demon retorted.
‘But then we wouldn’t get to play the game, stupid!’ the white demon scowled, ‘What can this little pipsqueak possibly know that we don’t anyway?’ Turning back to Libi, he said:
‘We accept and we go first.’
The three demons then huddled together to compose a riddle between them, cackling each time they found a way to make it even harder to guess. After a few bites and scratches and awful giggles they settled on a final version and turned around.
‘I’m neither there nor here,’ the white demon began.
‘No one wants me but I visit everyone,’ the yellow demon added.
‘I’m only found when things disappear,’ the blue demon said in a mocking tone of voice.
‘I only come when others are gone!‘ the white demon concluded and they all broke up cackling, confident that they’d set an impossible riddle.
But Libi was not all fazed. She met their eyes calmly and said: ‘Loss.”
‘What? How could you have guessed so quickly?’ the blue demon spat angrily.
Libi shrugged. ‘Look at what you did to my world. You took away what was most important to us. It was loss you gave us. It was loss that brought me here. Now it’s my turn.’ Closing her eyes to concentrate she recited:
‘I could be common, but I’m usually rare,
I’m the criminal’s hope, the sinner’s prayer,
I cost nothing but I’m worth a lot
I’m the only way a wound can be forgot.’
The demons bit themselves until they drew blood at the difficulty of the riddle. They thought they had heard all the puzzles before but this one was new to them and they found themselves gripped by the fear of losing.
‘We get one guess each!’ the blue demon insisted.
‘That’s not fair.’
‘Since when were demons fair?’ the white demon snarled, ‘I guess.. gold! It’s rare, criminals hope for it-’
‘It can’t make you forget a wound though, can it?’ Libi smiled. ‘Next!’
‘Immortality!’ the yellow demon cried, ‘Everyone hopes and prays for it, and if you live long enough you forget any wound!’
“It can’t be common though, can it? Next!’
The blue demon was a good deal wiser than the other two and didn’t just snatch at a guess. Instead he used all his sensitivity to read the girl’s heart and mind for the answer. But though he scanned every cell of her body with burning intent, he couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, he looked into her eyes with unswerving hatred and said:
‘I give up. What is the answer?’
Libi looked at him with pitiful eyes. ‘Forgiveness.
The demons at once let out a loud howl of anguish and scratched themselves viciously with their dirty claws, hitting their heads against the ground in anger. The answer was so alien, so foreign to them that they were unable to see the little girl in front of them was full of it. The only reason she’d had the courage to come here in the first place was that she had already forgiven them for what they had done.
‘You might have won,’ the white demon growled, looking up at her hungrily, ‘But what’s to stop us eating you anyway?’
‘Because if you did the word might get out that you cheat and then no one would ever play a game with you ever again.’
The demons shuddered at the truth of her words. More than killing, eating and causing pain, they loved most of all to gamble and they could not risk losing their reputation. Despite themselves, it was their only point of honour. The snake demon eyed Libi icily and observed:
‘You’ve been talking to foxes.’
But before Libi could reply he pulled out the three sacks and ripped them open with his teeth and the bleak land around them burst into life; Libi’s eyes filled with a colour brighter and more vivid than anything she could remember seeing, her ears tingled with sounds of millions of voices laughing and she felt a whirlwind of stories sweeping around her, a myriad of scenes and characters and metaphors flooding her senses until she no longer quite knew where she was or what had been happening…
She awoke some time later on her favourite chair on the balcony of her house. Her mother laid a cup of hot chocolate on the table beside her, stroked her hair and walked back into the house. Libi leaned forwards tentatively and saw that life was going on as normal in the streets – there was a couple kissing on the corner, some delivery men were sharing a private joke and an old man on a park bench was telling his grandchildren a story that had them wide-eyed with wonder.
Libi leaned back in her chair and sighed. She hoped the demons wouldn’t get too bored in that nasty hole they lived in. Why couldn’t they make a nicer home for themselves?
The Fox’s Advice
There wasn’t a shadow, or a scent on the wind or the slightest sound but something told the fox to dart at once into the nearest hole.
‘Miserable ball of mangy fur!’ the white demon cried, ‘I’ll teach you to meddle!’
‘I’m going to floss my teeth with your tail.’ the yellow demon bellowed.
‘I’m going to poison your soul drop by drop.’ the snake demon promised.
‘Oh I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’ the fox laughed from deep inside his hole.
‘Oh no? Why not?’ growled the white demon, getting ready to jump down and grab him.
‘Because then you wouldn’t find out how to keep eating humans.’ the fox simpered.
‘But we promised to leave them alone from now on!’ the snake demon hissed in rage, ‘And it was you who taught that little brat the trick!’
‘Oh, of course but that was when you just snatched them up. I’m sure no one would hold it against you when you’re invited to dine.’
‘You better start making sense quickly!’ the yellow demon moaned, overcome with hunger.
‘You just have to start eating them up from the inside.‘ the fox explained, ‘No human wants to give you his body to eat but the soul is pretty much up for grabs, I’d say. Just look around. All the humans who have given up on life, who have given into despair, who chase dreams of lust and glory while dragging their hearts through the mud – doesn’t that sound like an invitation to you?’
The three demons looked at one another in astonishment and slowly, surely, a smile formed on their lips and they began to laugh maniacally. How had they never thought of that before? Already they could smell desperation and despair on the wind blowing in from the nearest city. Forgetting about the fox, they turned around and set off in search of lunch.