THE DEATH OF A HAMSTER by Angela Allan

I met Satan under a blanket. It was around the time I started thinking I could change red lights to green with my mind. I’d decided that my brain had unusual power, and that even if most people couldn’t see the devil or halve the time of their daily commute, I was different. This was also around the time that I practiced what I called ‘radical empathy’: frequent attempts to understand others’ perspectives by copying their behavior. On that day in particular I was crawling around under a blanket in order to empathize with my hamster. Just when I began to understand what Bugsy liked about blanket-world, I saw two red eyes peering back at me and recognized the biblical villain.

He kissed me. His breath was pleasantly warm and recognizable, and he traced all kinds of beautiful designs in my mouth with his forked tongue. Pretty soon we were clutching each other and twisting around, engaged in the kind of passionate make-out session you’d expect from sixteen-year-olds in the back of a Volkswagen Rabbit. I didn’t tell him that I was thirty years old and married—we didn’t have to wade through any small talk because I correctly assumed his omniscience.

The make-out session turned rough and when we finished kissing I had indentations all over my skin, claw marks from his desperate, loving nails. My mouth felt soggy, and, remembering why I was under the blanket in the first place, I mumbled “Bugsy.”

“Who’s Bugsy?” the devil hissed.

“My hamster,” I answered.

I heard a little squeak and smelled smoke. The devil had incinerated Bugsy with his mind.

“You’re terrible,” I whispered. “I like it.”

The blanket, the warm, dark hider of sin, was yanked off with a swoosh by my husband. With the rage of a cuckold, he grabbed Satan by the horns and brought him to his hooves. Then he punched him repeatedly in the face until Satan was bleeding from his nose and both eyes. Satan didn’t fight back, just glanced down at me sadly as if to say, “Sorry about your hamster’s premature cremation.” I recalled the swirls of his forked tongue on the insides of my cheeks and wished I’d never thought of radical empathy.

“I’m going to forgive you,” my husband said later that night. “But only because it was the devil.”

The devil had been taken to the emergency room, and my husband faced assault charges, but when the devil disappeared in a puff of smoke on the operating table, the charges were dropped.

“If you had gone to jail, I would’ve stayed by your side 24/7,” I said to my husband. “I would’ve sat outside your cell and fed you minestrone through the bars.”

“Jail doesn’t work like that,” my husband replied. “You can only come during visiting hours.”

The next day my husband went to work and I was back under the blanket with Satan. This time we didn’t make out, just pinched each other’s nipples with clothespins he made hot with his breath. He was surprisingly hairless except for a happy trail, and I didn’t venture under his flame-printed underwear because I was scared of what might happen if I touched the devil’s dick.

The next week my husband noticed that Bugsy was gone and asked what had happened.

“Why did it take you so long to realize?” I asked. “He died a whole week ago.”

“What did you do?” my husband asked. “Bury him? Flush him down the toilet?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I answered, pouty-faced. “It was a whole damn week ago.”

The devil didn’t come anymore after that because I lost the power to conjure him with my mind. I couldn’t change stoplights anymore either, which ironically made my husband suspicious because it took me twice as long to get home from work.

“Don’t you remember when it used to take me this long?” I asked him. But he shook his head no and went back to his book.

What I didn’t know then is that even if I couldn’t conjure the devil, he could still conjure me. Down in his fiery hell, he pulled a wool quilt over himself and hallucinated my presence with enormous mental force. On the nights when this happened I could feel the echoes of his forked tongue all up and down my thighs, and I scratched them so much my husband thought we had bedbugs.

“We have to wash the sheets in boiling water,” he insisted. “That’s the only way to get them out.”

“Maybe they’re not there,” I said. “Can you see any?”

“You can’t see bedbugs,” he answered. “And why else would you scratch at night?”

The devil’s forked tongue licks came when I was at work sometimes, and my colleagues noticed me twisting uncomfortably in my chair.

“What’s wrong?” Rhonda whispered at break time. “Do you have a yeast infection? An STD?”

“No,” I answered. “It’s just restless leg syndrome. It runs in the family.”

My husband heard “restless leg syndrome” from Rhonda later at a party, and asked why I’d never mentioned it to him. He immediately recalled the bedbug scenario and wondered if it wasn’t psychosomatic.

“Psychosomatic is exactly what it was,” I answered.

“Then why did you make me wash the sheets in boiling water?”

“You did that yourself, because you thought we had bedbugs.”

At home, we stopped making love as regularly. Sometimes I’d imagine his eyes turning red and I’d shudder. Maybe the first time it had just been him in a devil mask; maybe he had sent himself to the emergency room and that’s why the charges were dropped. I only thought of these things when I was halfway between dreaming and awake. Those were the scariest times, the times I was most susceptible to the devil’s capture. I started doing math problems in my head to avoid daydreams—he couldn’t conjure me if I was doing square roots. Weeks of math problems, and I began to think I had defeated him. But then my husband started itching at his thighs.

“You can’t take him hostage!” I whispered to the devil at night. “I’ll stop doing math, just let Sam go!”

But the next day I came home and Sam was under the blanket, moaning. The blanket was the portal—how could I have forgotten? And when Satan zapped me to dust, it didn’t hurt like I’d thought it would. That made me feel less sorry for poor Bugsy.

Angela Allan was born in the Philippines. She likes to eat rambutan and poke at dead jellyfish with sticks. Her previous work has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and the Best of Smokelong Anthology.

If she could make anything visible? “People’s bones. Everyone would be an animated X-ray, with sort of vague, transparent skin. It would be both macabre and anatomically educational.”

Back to Issue 3: Things Unseen

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