While the child nursed, Millie whispered prayers to the savior. She did this each morning while breastfeeding, pleading yet again for help, stressing each time that it was not for herself she prayed, but for the sake of her eight-month-old son. God bless his little fingers and toes. She made it clear to whomever was listening she was willing to bargain, to sacrifice dearly, if that’s what it took, if that’s how things worked — though it made no sense to her. Hadn’t she sacrificed enough already. A dead husband, and a finicky infant, and a four acre farm she could hardly manage. There were no more livestock to sell, no more equipment to hock or trade.

And why exactly did she have to be the tattler on devils — couldn’t the son of god see for himself that dozens of demons were living in the walls. All day and all night they made terrifying noises. She pictured the sounds pulsing from the walls in waves of colors, flamboyant, vulgar, blaring sounds, earthshakingly loud, powerful enough to disturb the dead.

Maybe that’s what they were after, these devils, who’s soul they had come for – her deceased husband. Mathew’s ashes had been scattered willy-nilly in the vegetable garden, just as he had requested. Months had passed. His spirit was long gone. His remains already in the soil, passing through worms, feeding roots. His soul, Millie imagined, right now streaking at the speed of light towards some end of the universe.

Yet the devils remained. Her daily prayers hadn’t improved the situation. Instead of being cast out, they were now as comfortable as mice in a silo full of grain. Had Mathew invited these dark spirits, had he drawn them a map on his death bed? Who knows what deals that fool might have made. He was a broken man, barely more than a child himself, always talking to shadows, sticking needles in his arms, making transactions in the dark.

She’d never put a needle in her arm, never smoked a single cigarette. She despised liquor, even beer, though she’d once sipped champagne at her wedding. She’d kept her vows, and kept her senses, and held to her faith through it all. The devils couldn’t torture her, but their ruckus clearly disturbed the baby. Their outbursts were the cause of his squirming behavior, his finicky appetite, the reason he cried so often. Why he barely slept more than a few hours at a time. Though clean and dry and fed and snuggled close to her breast, her face smiling down, he would wince as he wailed like a wounded animal. She would watch his body jerk, and study his mouth as he cried. When he really got going his tongue danced wildly about, like loose siding in a hurricane. She craved to hear the power of his lungs. She would gladly suffer through a concert of the devils’ orchestra to hear just once her baby cry. But all she could do was try to comfort, to shush and hush. She rubbed his back and made cooing sounds. She hummed lullabies she strained to remember from her own childhood. Her hearing had quit when she was four years old. But she filed away sound memories. Sometimes she would wipe her son’s tears with her fingertips then rub the back of her ears, dabbing each earlobe in the smooth, precise manner of a debutant applying her first really expensive perfume.

Had Matthew, god rest his soul, once bought her perfume at any price? She remembered a gallon jug of bubble bath with a Christmas bow stuck to the cap. That was only a year ago. She stared down at the baby, who, by the red-faced looks of him, was screeching. The devils were playing their tricks. She studied the odd shape of his mouth, the veracity of his breathing. The dumb devils in her walls didn’t know she was stone deaf, that by now Matthew’s soul wasn’t anywhere near this place, that the baby was an innocent, undeserving of such torment. The poor thing couldn’t help being what he was, what was in him, what was not.

Bob Thurber

Bob Thurber is the author of "Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel" and four collections of short fiction. Over the years his work has received a long list of awards, appeared in 60 anthologies, and been utilized in schools and colleges throughout the world. He resides in Massachusetts.