The Devil

July 14, 2023

The last time I saw my sister, Rhona, she was whispering the devil’s name at the bottom of the tree in our back garden. She wasn’t supposed to be wearing her school uniform. We’re not allowed to get it dirty on school nights. Dad had told her to take it off twice, but she hadn’t listened. Ever since she turned thirteen, she never did listen to him.

The sun faded from the sky, turning grey, then dark blue, then black and starless. I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. I kept sitting up and pulling back the curtain a little bit to see if Rhona was still kneeling outside. Her black hair—which is like mine, but straight—kept falling across her face. Every time she tucked it behind her ear, I saw her lips moving, mouthing his name over and over and over again.

Earlier that day, Dad told Rhona he didn’t want to hear it, she better not mention him at home ever again. If he knew she was doing this, she’d get in big trouble. But he’ll never know because he wasn’t there, and I refused to tell. I’m not a snitch.

I nodded when Dad asked if I saw her that night, but I shook my head when he asked if I knew where she was. But I did know, really. Hell. All the way at the bottom of it. Not burning, I didn’t think. Maybe riding the flames in a boat with a black leather sail to match her favorite jacket. You know, she used to stick her finger in the candle at dinner time, just to show me she could stand the heat.

Dad knelt down to my height and put his hand on my shoulder. His blue eyes bore into mine. “I’m not the one you need to protect her from right now, Laurie,” he promised. “I love her. You know that.”

He leaned in so our foreheads touched. I didn’t blink.

Rhona never spoke about the devil. Not directly. She mentioned him, leaving out all the terrible things he’d done. She told me about the time they’d spent together, how fun it was, how funny. Like the time she broke into the library storage room, which had stacks of books so tall they towered over the shelves themselves.

“He told me not to touch them,” she said with a shrug. Of course, she never listened to him, he was the devil. “But it was sooo funny, the look on his face when I did something he’d tell me not to,” she laughed.

I never asked her what he looked like. I’d seen paintings—big, framed ones in galleries —where he had red, wrinkled skin and glowing eyes and a smile that stretched from ear to ear. I tried smiling like that, but I couldn’t do it. It hurt too much, and I didn’t have enough teeth to take up all of the extra space. I wondered if Rhona’s devil looked like that, if he had lots of teeth like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, if he was tall or short, if he wore normal clothes or weird ones.

She would lower her chin and glare at me every time I tried to bring him into conversation. One time, she came into my room while I was practicing making origami airplanes to tell me about an argument she had gotten into at school. A girl called Nancy, who I met when she came around once and thought was quite pretty, claimed Rhona stole her folding hairbrush, the one she kept in her handbag for emergencies.  Nancy pushed Rhona and squealed and told the teacher my sister had pushed her.

“Petty,” Rhona said, shaking her head.

Nancy was a liar.

I asked if he had been there.

Rhona looked at me, silently. She moved her hand, and I flinched, but she didn’t hit me. She grabbed my Batman backpack and tore it from my hands. I stood frozen whilst she rummaged through the big pocket.

“What are you looking for?” I asked timidly.

There wasn’t anything secret in there. Just my homework and maybe a squished flapjack I’d forgotten to eat at snack time. But I still didn’t like her going through my things. Not when they were my things and she never let me touch her things.

After several seconds of rummaging, she produced a plastic purple thing I’d never seen before. It looked like a girl’s toy, but then Rhona unfolded it, and I realized it was a hairbrush.

I gasped.

“I didn’t steal it, silly,” Rhona exclaimed, throwing it at me. “He did.”

I didn’t know what to do with it. It was stolen, but not by me, and not by Rhona either I didn’t think, so I hid it under the pile of clean laundry at the bottom of my wardrobe. It was the only place I could think of that no one would ever look.

The devil had a real name, a proper one, but I didn’t find out what it was until the night she went missing. It was Luc. I kind of thought it would be more interesting. At least it wasn’t spelled “Luke” like the boy in my class with glasses that made his eyes look massive. That wouldn’t have been devil-like at all.

The officers who investigated Rhona’s disappearance called him “Rhona’s boyfriend.” Dad’s eyes began to puff, and he started crying, so they stopped calling him that and called him Luc instead. They had pictures of him at her school and with her friends, but they wouldn’t let me see.

“No boyfriends,” Dad instructed me from the driver’s seat in the car on the way back from our third visit to the police station that week. His voice seemed lower than usual, and his eyes glistened with tears. “No boyfriends, no girlfriends. Not until you’re as old as me, do you hear?”

I stared at him in the rearview mirror.

“Laurie,” he snapped.

I nodded. But I wasn’t in denial, like Dad. I knew Luc was Rhona’s boyfriend. I don’t know how I knew because I never really saw them together, but Rhona seemed really insistent at the bottom of the tree, like she was begging him to take her away. That seemed like something boyfriends and girlfriends would do. At least, maybe the ones on TV. And if he did go to her school, then they would have seen each other every day.

Yes, they were in love.

I didn’t want a boyfriend or girlfriend, anyway. I cared way more about winning the break-time paper airplane flying competition. (I’d been practicing, and my folding technique was definitely the best.)

A whole week went by before I started to get bored of Rhona being in Hell. Her room seemed weird now that it was empty. It smelled like rubber gloves and hand sanitizer ever since the police searched it, totally different from Rhona’s usual hand cream and eyeshadow smell. Dad started drinking wine on the sofa in front of the TV after dinner while I was meant to be doing homework. He tried to tell me it was a special kind of squash because he didn’t realize Rhona had already told me what alcohol was.

I’m nine, but I’m not stupid. I think Dad forgets that when he’s distracted.

I waited until he was dozing before abandoning my Literacy questions and sneaking through the kitchen to the back garden. The police officers had looked at it quickly, but they hadn’t searched it because they didn’t know it was the crime scene they were looking for. I hadn’t told them, not being a snitch and all. Kneeling in the same place as Rhona (I was good and wore joggers instead of my school uniform), my heart beat a bit faster in my chest. He wouldn’t take me. Would he?

I swallowed back the fearful sensation and, with a sticky mouth, whispered his name.

“I don’t want to go to Hell,” I started by saying. I rummaged through my pockets and produced the plastic purple hairbrush. Dirt stuck beneath my fingernails as I dug a hole to bury it in. I half expected to hear his voice. I thought he’d acknowledge me somehow, maybe say hello or what do you want or even thank you, but he didn’t.

I laughed nervously. “Can you,” I stammered, “can you tell Rhona I miss her? If she wants to visit, she can.” The air was still. The tree looked and smelled like a tree. Nothing interesting or devil-like happened, not even nearly.

So I said, “Okay,” stood up, brushed the dirt off my joggers, and sneaked back through the kitchen to finish my homework.

But there, waiting for me on my chair, glittering through the clumps of dirt that covered it, was the purple plastic hairbrush.


Deborah RoseDeborah Rose is the Managing Editor for Hey Young Writer. She is the author of YA, fantasy novels Dragon Pearls (2019) and Crown My Heart (2020). You can follow her on Instagram at @authordeborahrose or visit her website,!


Featured image by Elijah O’Donnell on Pexels