A Rosie by Any Other Name
By Donna J. W. Munro
What did I expect? Of all my children, only Grendella has a heart of gold.
The others are hell-spawn. Rightly so!
But Grendella finds beauty in the hideous and charm in the nasty. Her pug nose and ruddy cheeks shine with excitement when the sky lights up in the fire of a sunset, which is the work of our nemesis if ever I've seen it.
More than once I've wanted to pitch her from the battlements. The sunshine that pours from her giggling mouth illuminates the corners where the damned hide. Her fingers trail along the spines of my Necronomicons while she sings a song about daisies. Daisies! No flower is more repugnant to hell, with its cheery white petals bonneting a sun yellow face.
My wife, Morguen, swore that Grendella would grow out of her goodness. A demonic responsibility might fix her! I thought. My intentions were bad. You know what they say about bad intentions.
I drew my pentacle and called up a lower demon, misshapen like a dog in a larger dog's skin. Lion's head without the fur crown. Teeth and horns, of course. What kind of demon would it be without those?
I called it forth, trapping it in the star.
“What do you wish, mortal?” The beastie grumbled. The pain of the containing fire burned blue across its body.
“You’ll be servant to Grendella.”
The demon licked his lips.
“I'm claimed, beast. I desire you for my child.”
It cocked its head, listening to the voices of hell confirming all I'd said. “Fine… Master,” the thing said, pointed tongue lolling across the words as if they tasted sweet.
That evening during dinner, my children reported their workings. The eldest caused a fire that burned the school to the ground. My middle boy pushed an old woman climbing a stairway. She won't be climbing ever again. Grendella picked at her plate of roasted entrails. She probably had nothing to report, of course. My heart quakes when I think of a child of mine being so damned good.
“Grendella, you know we all must work to uphold our vile reputation with the Lord of the Flies. What evil did you create today?”
She squirmed, avoiding the accusing glances of her siblings. Finally, she looked up, giving me her bravest face. “I tried, really. But whatever I do turns out…”
“Good?” Morguen asked.
“I have a solution.” I nodded to our servant. He turned, retrieving the beast I'd conjured and dumping it in Grendella's lap. The creature's teeth clacked as its pewter-skinned body sagged against her. Its head lolled, and saucer eyes shot with blood and yellow light fixed on hers. The demon sprayed stench, brimstone, and rot from its pores.
Morguen laughed, knowing that a demon would work against Grendella's goodness at every opportunity. Perhaps, our youngest might be damned yet.
That night, Morguen came to our chamber shaking her head.
“What?” I asked, peering over my studies for spell making and the many uses of flayed skin.
“Your plan isn't working. Go see Grendella's latest project.” She huffed. “Deal with this mess before it becomes something we'll answer for.”
My wife never minces words. Worshippers of Satan don't hide behind niceties and kindnesses that are a waste of time. We say truth because truth is the sharpest knife.
I made my way down the hall, ancestors grumbling from their stern portrait perches. Not for the first time I wondered what they thought of my youngest daughter's purity.
I opened her door, stepping into a room we'd draped with black silks and hung with depictions of Dante's Inferno, a favorite nursery rhyme for damned children.
Grendella's creature sprawled out, swaddled in soft towels. The puddles on the floor from the bathroom and the wafting scent of lavender led me to believe she'd bathed the demon, perfumed it. And now sat on the floor scratching round the base of its horns. She crooned a song with the name she'd given, Rosie, woven through the promises of love into the demon's ear holes. It purred. Purred!
“Grendella!” I roared. “What have you done?”
She jumped, flowers tumbling from her hand and landing upon the demon's skin, puncturing it… though the creature seemed to enjoy the feel.
“It felt like I should care for Rosie. It felt… right.” She caught the problem in her words and her face fell into a lovely pout. She bit her lip and distractedly placed a final flower upon the creature's head.
That final flower, a sweet kindness, created a cascade. The creature's skin split where the petals touched it and peeled away in clumps, turning first to ash and then to powder that lit the room with a white haze. Its teeth fell away and the horns turned to ivory all in the space of a soul's fall.
Grendella laughed at the change, which would have been great had the transformation been painful, but the demon sang joy. From the ashes rose a phoenix bird. The soul of a fallen angel redeemed by my daughter's hand! How would I explain this to the bright lord?
“Thank you,” Rosie said. Then it rose on white wings through the peaked roof, gathering trapped souls to ferry away to the other place.
I was doomed!
“Father,” Grendella said, rising from the bed. “I didn't mean to—”
“Stop, child.” I slid to the floor. What would the Master say about my losses? About my girl and her abilities? What would the neighbors say?
Grendella sank down next to me as I worried. She put her plump hand on my cheek, cooling the embarrassment with a touch. She hugged me. Not something we encourage, but the warmth of her arms and the sigh of her lemony breath on my neck gave me such joy.
I stood and pushed her away from me. “No more of this, child. You must find your evil.”
She smiled that gentle grin and said, “I'll try father.”
In my chest, something panged. Loosened.