Devils Elbow – Helen Moat

When Damien was a toddler, his parents bought him a T-shirt that said ‘little devil’. Everyone thought it sweet and funny.

By the time he was 3, the humour of the T-shirt had worn off for Damien was a devil: sly, provocative, angry, violent. Out of control.

Then Damien discovered he had a lethal weapon in his possession, a weapon he had with him at all times: sharp, pointed, with a propelling force behind it that could cause a good deal of damage.

It was his elbow.

At first, the elbow was used surreptitiously: a sly nudge here, a furtive knock there. If ever anyone caught him in the act, he’d hold his hands up aggressively, pushing his face close to the accuser before shouting in their ear, “What then?”

The school set up a programme of ‘positive play’. Damien was summoned to the ‘Sparkle Room’ but he was hardly going to be won over by sequined curtains, twinkly lights, soft cushions, silky drapes or disco balls. Who did they think he was? Increasingly he thought the teachers in his school were full-blown idiots – although Damien had built up an impressive repertoire of more savoury words to describe his mentors by this stage.

The role models sent to the Sparkle Room were gentle creatures, a different species altogether. They were kind and thoughtful, carefully selected to encourage Damien to engage with the human race in a – well – gentle, kind and thoughtful manner.

It didn’t work. Once a beast, always a beast. And the lovely, gentle girls invariably got an elbow in the face for their endeavours.

By secondary school, Damien didn’t bother with underhand digs. It was full-on war. As he made his way down the long corridors, he’d jam his elbow into the stomach or side of any pupil he didn’t like the look of.

If he’d ever had any friends, they soon melted away. His peers refused to engage in any ball games with him as the elbow was increasingly employed with wanton abandon and brutal force.

By adulthood, Damien was doing his best to be awarded with an ASBO. He was frequently involved in drunken bar brawls.

The elbow figured heavily.

Then one night, as it was bound to happen, his preferred choice of weapon found him in deep, deep water – or should I say, blood and guts. As Damien left his local, he jammed his elbow with such force into the stomach of a man he had stumbled upon, that the man collapsed on the ground, gasping for breath. Damien saw the man was dying. He couldn’t bear to watch so he took out a knife, and jammed it into the soft flesh where he had elbowed the man. Slowly, the man’s innards slid to the pavement.

Damien did the only thing he could do. He ran and ran until he found himself stumbling through unknown woods somewhere on the edge of the town where he lived. After running for about 20 minutes, Damien collapsed onto the hard, root-covered forest floor. The light was fading from the sky, and for once, Damien wondered what he was going to do.

As the awful truth of his deed sank in, Damien was faced with the realisation: he had killed a man.

Damien knew he needed a plan – but he had never planned anything in his life. Everything he had done up until this point had been instinctive, a reaction. And now he felt completely out of his depth.

As he sat down, wheezing on a damp, moss-covered branch, he noticed a shadowy figure emerge from the trees. The figure glided towards him, then stopped. Damien felt a shiver creep through his body. The figure before him looked uncannily like himself: the same pinched features, the pasty face, the long pointed nose, the small beady eyes, the scaly fish-white body, the matted greasy, green-brown hair, looking like seaweed waving in the wind.  The man standing in front of Damien was as thin and as pale as the birch trunks that surrounded them.

“So,” said the strange man. “You’ve got a nerve.”

For the first time in his life, Damien felt fear.

“I hate your sorts,” the man continued, circling Damien. “The worst sorts, the stealing, thieving sorts.”

“I don’t know you.” Damien tried to shout but his voice rasped like the dying sound squeezed from a hole-ridden bagpipe. “How could I have stolen from you? I’ve never taken anything from you in my life.”

“On the contrary, my friend, you’ve been trying to take the most valuable thing a man possesses.”

“What then?” Damien could feel his elbow twitching.

The strange man drew close to Damien, pushing his face near to his.

He spoke in a voice so deep and low that at first Damien didn’t register the words.

“You are trying to steal my identity.”

“Cut it, loser,” Damien said aggressively, but the fear was taking hold, strangling his throat like a living thing.

“Please, sir,” the strange man continued. “A little more respect wouldn’t go amiss. Don’t you know who I am?”

“No idea, loser.” The last word was almost whispered. Damien barely recognised himself.

“Come, come. Don’t be so coy. I’m your friend. Maybe we could go further. I am you. No, that’s not quite right. Let’s see. I am who you would like to be.”

“Cut the crap. You’re talking in riddles. You should be in a nut house.”

“Let me explain then, my friend, for I am happy to enlighten you.”

Damien grew silent. The fear was a very real thing, trampling his body.

The strange man continued. “I’m the devil. And you sir, you are an imposter. You seek to spread evil wherever you go and to destroy – but you, you are no match for me.”

And with that the devil rolled up the sleeves of his long black coat, revealing arms of metal. He flexed a steel elbow, and Damien saw that it was razor sharp with a fine, hard point. Suddenly the devil halted and held his arms out as if to embrace Damien.  But instead, he grasped Damien’s shirt and ripped it back with a sudden violent movement to reveal Damien’s naked stomach. And slowly the devil drew the cold, sharp metal edge of his elbow across his impostor’s middle.

“I’m not one for quoting the bible,” said the devil spitting, “but it is true when it says that you reap what you sow. And how fitting that I am the Grim Reaper.”

Damien watched in horror as blood gushed from the break in his body and saw his own guts slither to the forest floor.

And as he drew his last breath, he realised the devil was right:  Damien was no match for him.


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