It is a heady day, for Lucifer; it always is. A charged day, an electric day, a day of potential. A new thought has taken over his head, some new little thought which he cannot describe, but can feel, certainly, though no stronger and no weaker than any of his other thoughts. He does not know whether it is his own or if someone has put it there, but at any rate, he doesn't pay it much attention. It is a background thought, a quiet droning. "Betty is in trouble," it says.
Lucifer wanders through the halls. He opens the door; he doesn't knock. There is Betty, on her bed. She looks at him with disgust. "Oaf," she calls him, plainly. He stands mute, inattentive. "What is it? What do you want?" she asks, impatient, always impatient. Again, Lucifer does not say a word: he does not know what to say, even what he is doing there. He is confused. She mutters, "Ugh. Leave me alone. Damned idiot." He stands, fidgets, embarrassed, unfortunate.
"Go to Hell." She enunciates clearly, each word its own sentence. Mutual silence. "Go to Hell, Lucifer, and leave me alone."
Silence; broken: "No, you go to Hell!" He roars, gestures, screams his brains out without leaving his spot. "Harlot!" he cries, "Whore of Babylon! Bitch, defiler!" the words pour out "Devil's consort, lover of Satan!" he doesn't know what to say; he is confused, he is embarrassed "Judith!"
Betty is stunned; she is impressed. She looks at the monster with wide eyes, sitting on the bed, considering whether to run. He rages without moving, screams profanity and sacrilege. He is confused, he is shocked, he is embarrassed; he doesn't know what he is saying. He moves forward, lurches, and Betty starts; and Lucifer is more confused than ever, for he knows, at least, that he will not hurt her. But he cannot stop screaming; the voices are in his head.
Soon the others come, to restrain him, servants and family. His mother soothes and lullabies him into calm; he is pacified, and led away.
It is silent now as an empty field, but with the impression of noise still lingering like a firecracker had just gone off. Betty is alone, again, at last; but rattled, but more than anything, but most surprisingly, hurt. Hurt, but composed, and smooth like thin ice. "Well," says Betty, to herself.
"Well, well," replies Harold, lurker. He had been hiding.
Silence is Betty's plea for repose, but Harold's grin is merciless. Time passes; it is pointless; a sigh, and a sarcastic, hateful "What do you want, dear brother?" Betty is exhausted.
"Are you alright?" asks Harold, merely inquisitive, merely angelic.
With bile: "Am I alright? Don't be grotesque, Harold."
"Ah, but it so suits me! What did you do to the boy to set him off?"
Sullen, annoyed: "Nothing."
"Really? That's surprising. It's only a very small step off into madness, especially for that boy, but for some reason it's rarely effected without a little push."
"Damn you, Harold. The brute is insane, there's no accounting for him."
"What about `Damned idiot`? What about `Go to Hell, Lucifer, and leave me alone`? And such? Poor boy, not his fault, really. The steel-mouthed harpy got his heart between her beak."
She's sitting on the bed, bleeding, wanting nothing but to nurse her wounds, to retreat. "Ugh. Fine. I don't care. Leave me alone. What are you even doing?"
"What? I'm looking out for my poor debilitated older brother. Defending him from you. What do you mean `What am I doing`?"
"I mean what are you doing, you petty-politicking bastard? Leave me alone. Go tell father that I've been picking on his pet idiot. Maybe he'll raise your allowance for being so precious and unprincipled."
"Really? You know, he just might. At any rate, it never hurts to be in Daddy's good books; thanks. You know, Betty, you're not entirely unclever. If you weren't such an ugly, unsociable little bitch you could really get on this world." The words are matter-of-fact, not spoken out of anger. Harold's scalpel is sharp, his knowledge of anatomy complete. He knows just how to cut. "Look on the bright side: you're not too bad for a dead girl."
"Who the Hell do you think you're fooling?" Betty is disgusted, angry, writhing.
Harold chuckles to himself as he leaves the room. He walks down the hall, through the house, out the door; he steps outside, into the bright lights; Harold is impressed with himself, light as a cloud, with a smile across his face. He beams.
"Hello, dear sister!" he shouts out.
"Hello, Harold," says Morgan, reserved. She is painting.
"What are you painting?" he asks, from a distance.
"Take a look," she offers.
He wanders up to the easel with his hands in his pockets, but neglects to look at the painting. He just mills about the area, aimless. "What are you painting?" he asks, again.
"Take a look," she again replies.
He wanders. "Penny for your thoughts," he asks spontaneously, looking at her.
"How banal," she replies, "you can do better." She hasn't once looked at him.
"Ah, just as well," he retorts, "I would have been cheated, anyway."
"Well, a fool and his money... you know the rest."
He doesn't mind the words; but the fact that the bulk of her attention is on the painting and not on him is painful, slightly. He looks at the painting.
"What are you painting?" he asks.
"Take a look," she offers, without looking, without spirit.
"I am looking but, hmm... you know, I still can't tell." His face is serious, but he smiles inside: the subject is obvious: the trees, the forest. "Is that a house?" he asks.
She is blank; her concentration elsewhere. He is stymied, but determined.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"Haven't we been over this?"
"We're coming back to it."
She looks at him, finally, and he smiles. There is a silence, a slight one. "They're worth a half-pound."
"A half-pound? Quite a sum. You throw that down like it's non-negotiable," he replies, with questioning eyes.
"Nothing is. Besides which, no-one's thoughts are worth a half-pound."
"These thoughts are. You'd like them, Harold. They're dirty."
"What? Well," he says, and he thinks, for a while. "Well, in that case, then, by all means," and produces the coin, which he holds before him with two fingers. She takes it from him calmly, and says nothing. "Well?" he demands.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Harold. I was lying; they aren't dirty at all. The truth is I was still thinking about that 'fool and his money' thing. Can't seem to get that out of my head." It is the not looking at him, the off-handedness, that hurts. She realizes this.
She looks at him, and realizes: he is a favourite; he should be indulged. She had meant to fend off merely, and had instead injured. "Well, Harold," she asks, "what do you think of my painting."
And in a moment he regains his footing, finds himself. "Well," he says, "I'm not sure if I want to lend you my expertise now."
"Oh, do, please."
"Well... fine, but only because you're so lovely." He looks the picture over, humms and hawws with a connoisseur's deep murmur, and clears his throat to produce his verdict: "I think...", he says, at last, "I think you should stick to music."
She smiles, she laughs, and once again Harold is pleased. "You're right," she says, and holds out the brush to him. "Here you are," she continues, "I've mauled the canvass. See if you can't do something to bring it back to life."
"Ah, thank God," he laughs, "the world of art is spared a travesty."
Morgan pauses at that: he had taken more than his share, he had not recognized her gift. He was being stupid. She does not release the brush; they are both holding it. She is serious now. She stares at him, eyes piercing.
"Remember, Harold," she stares, "how badly I can hurt you. Don't toy," she pierces, "with those whom you do not control. I am a lioness to you, and I always will be." She lets go of the brush, and she walks away. Harold is left with a brush, and a canvass, and a lesson, and as he sits down at the stool he makes good use of them all.
Morgan walks off, past the house, through the garden, stretching as she does, alone, free, now. She yawns, she stretches, she soaks in the sun, and she meanders through the garden, towards Rhea. Rhea is sitting on a bench, in the garden, thinking, ruminating as a cow does.
"Hello, Rhea," says Morgan, standing at a distance.
Rhea looks over. "Hello," she says, and smiles faintly.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing," replies Rhea, and she pauses. "Nothing in particular."
Morgan pauses for a second, too. "You have a book there, I see," she says.
"Were you reading."
Rhea thinks for a moment; then: "No. As I said, I wasn't doing anything. I was thinking."
At that Morgan approaches and reads the cover of the book. "The Mysteries of Udolpho? You aren't reading that, really. Are you?"
Rhea looks up at her, and smiles. "You don't approve?"
Morgan smiles broadly, trying to be charming, changing the subject. "It's lovely out, today, isn't it."
Rhea smiles in return. "It is, yes."
Morgan is having difficulty; she is trying to be charming, but something about Rhea flusters her.
"I love spring," she says.
"I do too," replies Rhea. Simple, pleasant, but leaving nothing to grab hold of.
"I think it's my favourite season," says Morgan, embarrassed to be reduced to this.
"Yes," replies Rhea.
Morgan is defeated. She sits down; she is concerned, matronly. "Rhea, why don't you like us?"
Rhea is taken aback; the question is absurd. "Oh, but I love you. I really do."
"Then why are you always alone?"
Rhea lets the question hang there for quite some time. The sounds of the garden, the birds and the leaves, move in to fill the hole in their conversation.
"I don't know," says Rhea, and she smiles.
"But do you enjoy your solitude?"
"I don't know," says Rhea, and she smiles still.
Morgan does not find this answer sufficient. "You're being very disappointing." She is not quite scowling, she is not even not smiling, but there is displeasure in her face. She stands up.
"I'm going inside, to listen to the victrola. Would you like to come?" It was almost a challenge, but it was still mostly an invitation.
Rhea stares straight ahead; she cannot see Morgan, she can only see the gardens. "No, thank you," she replies, "I think I'll stay here."
Morgan pauses; she is upset. Rhea still stares straight ahead.
"And read?" Morgan asks.
"And read." Rhea replies, simply, quietly.
"And what?" Her voice is strained.
"And listen to the birds."
"But why?" Morgan is exasperated.
Now Rhea pauses, and thinks. "I'm not sure quite yet," she replies.
Morgan is civil. "Alright, goodbye, then, Rhea." Then she adds "I'm sorry;" without knowing why, and without feeling sorry. She turns and heads into the house.
Rhea remains in the gardens, sitting, staring straight ahead. She stays like that for a little while. She picks up her book, opens it, decides against reading, and puts it back down. Then she gets up, and she too heads towards the house. But she goes down into the basement, to find her brother; she does so, and sits down near him. He is spinning straw into gold.
"Hi, Arthur," she says, and startles him. He looks up.
"Oh, hello, Rhea, charming." He smiles. "What brings you down to my lair?"
"Arthur, do you think I'm odd?" She accompanies the question with a bright-eyed stare.
"Mm-hmm, and don't you ever doubt it. Why, has someone been calling you normal? People can be terribly cruel."
"I've been thinking," she says, as if that explanation should do.
Arthur puts down his work. "Ah, well, then." He looks at her, expecting more, but not getting it.
He turns back to his work, but continues speaking. "Thinking's a dangerous habit, I'm told; though to be truthful I've been known to indulge myself on occasion." Silence follows; he waits some more. Finally, he asks, "What is it, Rhea? What's the matter?"
"Morgan thinks I'm socially maladjusted."
"What do you care what Morgan thinks?"
"I care a great deal what Morgan thinks; just as I care a great deal what you think, and Harold, and Betty, and Lucifer, and everyone here."
"Well, I think you're perfectly alright. Besides, it's only when Betty starts disparaging your social skills that you really have to worry. Sort of like if Lucifer questioned your mental cohesion, or Harold your moral rectitude."
She smiled at this. "You're mean," she says.
"What I'm saying is that Morgan expects everyone to want to be a princess, just like her. You have better things to be, and she can't understand that."
"Alright then, I suppose you're right. Thanks."
"You're very welcome."
"Besides, you're far more maladjusted than I am. You haven't even stepped outside all week."
"I have too! I had to pick up more sulphur."
"Well, I stand corrected." She turns to go. "Thanks, Arthur," she tosses back as she goes.
"You're very welcome," he replies. "Oh, and visit again soon," he shouts as she disappears up the stairs.
He clicks his tongue as he gets back to work. Rhea's visit leaves not even a ripple. He gets back to work, mixing ingredients and reading, creating wonderful things.
He is reading an old greek book now, and something has caught his attention. He reads a passage twice, three times. All of a sudden he cannot concentrate: a mad notion has entered his brain, a notion he couldn't dispel even should he have wished to. It is a thunderous idea, and it frightens him, but his pulse quickens at the thought of discovery, and he just has to know.
He hurries up through the back staircase, intent and excited. He knocks three times at Lucifer's door. "Yes?" booms the voice from within.
"Lucifer, it's Arthur. May I come in? It's important."
Arthur bursts in; Lucifer is sitting on the bed, staring at him wide-eyed. He has just been washed, and his face looks like carved marble. "What is it?" he asks.
"Lucifer," begins Arthur, but stops; he thinks a moment, stumbling over phrases. "What, if anything, have you been told about your birth?"
The immaculate man gets up, walks over to him, and puts a hand out to him. "Poor Jacob. Poor Daniel. Jacob did not survive his brothers. He perished; the man who ruled Egypt is not the same man."
Arthur looks at the out-stretched hand, wonders it's purpose. "Yes, Lucifer, but - look, Lucifer, you're massively strong, right?"
"As a bull," he replies. "Stronger."
"Yes, and Lucifer, and Lucifer, as I asked you before, what do you know of the circumstances of your birth? Anything? Anything odd?"
"You asked me that before."
"Yes, I did. What do you know?"
Lucifer beckons Arthur closer, and when he advances, eager, Lucifer reaches out and grabs him with both hands by the head. The giant drags him closer: he holds him so tight, Arthur begins to be afraid, much as he tells himself he shouldn't be. He tries to free himself, but can't. "There is a voice in my head. The voice tells me I was born of a mare's womb." He lets go. "But it's a secret."
Arthur stumbles, flusters, breathes hard; his cheeks are red. He stutters, half-afraid. "Excuse me, Lucifer." And he rushes out, down the stairs, to sanctuary, leaving Lucifer alone, puzzled, confused as always, smelling smoke.
The smoke raises him from his seat, pricks his volition. He wanders out, looks around. Suddenly a voice speaks to him. He knows what it is, now, and rushes to the other wing. Fire.
"Why isn't father stopping it?" he asks, "Why isn't mother stopping it? Why isn't Abby stopping it? Why isn't Morgan or Rhea or Arthur stopping it?" he asks out loud, as he runs down the hall. He bursts through doors and walls without stopping, arriving in Betty's room, engulfed in fire. His clothes burn on his body, so he takes them off. He looks around, frantic, afraid, confused, and sees the can of gasoline without connecting cause and effect, searching for his sister.
He looks around without finding her, smoke burning his eyes, heat scorching his skin. He's crying and frightened but still looks anyway, and finds her in the closet. "Leave me alone, Lucifer," she moans, with mental force though physically weak. He tears down the wall separating them from the outside and carries her out stumbling, naked and with tears streaming down his face, babbling incoherently.
The family gathers on the lawn; the fire goes out; it gets only the one wing; it is nearly nightfall. Betty has grown composed: she explains how Harold had set the fire, explains his curiosity for the oil, excuses herself. Harold has wandered off. He shouts "Sodom! Sulphur!" into the night, and is not quieted until morning.
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