Little Devils

Radha Kai Zan

There’s nothing more boring than deciding to kill yourself.

I scribbled down a shitty will, gifted my plants anonymously to neighbors and sent my hamster to stay at a petless friend’s house under the guise of going on a vacation. I try and imagine the experience my friends or family might have when they come into my house to clean it out, how they’ll snoop through my room and my trash. I throw out my dirty laundry instead of washing it, burn a bunch of embarrassing journals in the sink and make sure there’s no food that can rot in my fridge. There’s nothing worse than opening a fridge filled with putrid milk and old takeout.

When I’m done, I’ve got two bags of trash on the sidewalk. A whole life lived and the only secrets and shame I’ve accumulated are in two measly bags. Two tired piles of banality.

“I’m pathetic,” I say out loud into the sour afternoon air.

Nothing happens so it’s true.

There are fourteen types of lies but I only care about the one I’m telling myself. Fourteen ways to pop out a little devil.

“I’ve only eaten Vienna sausages for the last two weeks.”

No devil; a truth.

“I’ve only washed my hair once this month.”

No devil.

The next words I’ve been testing out in my head for a few days. Letting the syllables clatter harmlessly against the inner walls of skull. Speaking them separately and out of order, juggling the weight of their meaning behind disconnection. Moving my mouth without the force of my voice.

"I want to die."

And no devil emerges.

The neon green weather map is pixel-patched with crunchy piss yellow clouds. It flashes away to the blue of the main backdrop, the pink skin of the lead anchor. The colors lance through my pupils and an instant ache inflates at my temples but I can't bring myself to blink or look away. My body isn't responding to anything my brain is saying like all my nerves have been snipped from their ends.

The last of my artificial motivation is pilled up in an orange bottle in the bathroom, long white capsules bisected with teal. You'd think they'd make them funner, flashier. Maybe then I'd want to take them. Neon pink with purple spots maybe. A little party for your eye. Lively colors because that's what they're supposed to make you want. To live. I think.

Around my feet, my little devils sleep, all sixty-seven of them, spritzed into a temporary coma courtesy of a new Hush! No-Mess Non-Lethal Sleep Spray, Lavender Scented. The lavender smells more astringent like bleachy perfume and I can feel my diaphragm clenching, working up the energy for a punishing dry heave. Their bodies are hot against my ankles, damp and fluttering like soggy fly wings.

I focus on the news instead. Neutral audiovisual stimulus. A digestible pap of sound and color. It’s the same regurgitant from yesterday, a lineup of sludgy meaningless headlines:


HIKER FOUND DEAD, POSSIBLY KILLED BY BIG FOOT
NEWBORN PANDA CUB BORN OR COULD BE CHINESE ROBOT SCAM
QUIK-E MART SHOOTING MAYBE DEEP FAKE
BIGGEST PUMPKIN BOAT RACE PERHAPS FUDED BY BIG AG
ANTI-CLONE PROTEST SABOTAGED BY COPS (WHO MIGHT BE CLONES?)


The only devils I see are in the protest footage, clinging onto their sources who are marching down streets and waving signs. Some are no bigger than the pins and patches their sources wear on their jackets. Some wear little doll clothes branded with the current hashtag movement, but others are naked, clinging desperately amidst the churning crowd, falling off to certainly be trampled underfoot.

The current trend is showing off your devils, not to boast the number but to humanize yourself and criticize the demonization of deception in society. I get it, I do, fully support it, but honestly, it's a pretty blatant display of privilege if you're able to feed, clean up after and travel with your devil cadre. I certainly don't have the means to do that.

The segment switches and the anchorman reads off the teleprompter, his eyes black plastic beads, so close together they look more proportionate to a teddy bear than a human. My dad who works janitorial at the news station told me he's married with kids but I can't imagine someone having sex with him, his whiteless dead teddy eyes buttoning down on you over a gaping, gasping mouth trained to say everything and know nothing.

Despite being the ones who deliver the news the anchors are forbidden from researching or watching anything news related. They aren’t allowed to keep up to date with current events, as knowing the truth about a subject--or considering it the truth-- and subsequently having to lie about it might stimulate the birth of a little devil on air. Before this rule was put into effect, most news was pre-recorded or heavily fact-checked but that was quickly shown to be unsustainable. It requires a bit of mental layering, psychic surrender, and reliable disassociation to never inwardly doubt what you are told to say but, after an intensive 4-month training course funded by an alliance of TV stations, the anchors are thoroughly scrubbed of the certainty of reality. They can say anything with an enthusiastic gleam of chiclet-white teeth and nary a devil will be born. Truth is meaningless in the face of doubt and truth is only trouble.

There was a documentary about the news anchor training program which, while criticized, was generally accepted as a lesser evil. Lies are how we hold the tapestry of civilization together, one of the instructors, an ex-military interrogator, had said, and if we can't lie, we risk unraveling society.

There was a long interview with him as behind-the-scenes bonus content that had gone viral. During the interview, there is a moment where what looks like a devil is bulging through the top of the man's shirt: a little red pixelated hand grasping through the stitched buttonhole. It cuts away quickly. The clip’s popularity came from the debate around what he was lying about. Was he lying about the efficacy of the training program? The pain experienced by the trainees? His own experiences as an army interrogator? That he loved his job?

I replayed it several times, looking for the first sign of devil bulge in his chest or belly – devils often scrambled beneath clothes after they spawned – to pinpoint where the lie had started, but it could have come from anywhere, wandered up from a sleeve or a pant leg. Maybe it was when the interviewer asked about the bite mark on his cheek, a crescent of rectangular indents clotted with foundation but still visible, and he replied with a smile, Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.

You’d think you would know if you have the will to live or not, like instinctively, but I learned that’s not actually true. You can feel like pure shit, look in the mirror and see something half-dead, but when you say it aloud 'I want to die' the devils will let you know if it's true. They'll bust out of you, the exact size and volume of your desire to survive so there's no mistaking it.

That's where my sixty-seven devils came from. The 'I want to die' devils. Just a collection from the last week when I was pissing out the last of my meds, relapsing to my old bloodstream. It hurt to take in light. Speaking was like gagging up stones, each word too big for my throat, every noise popping painfully through the sphincter in my esophagus. Breathing became sucking down air through a pinhole. When I tried to fake a smile to my friends, my mouth tendons moved independently of each other like I was being tased.

So, I started saying it in the mirror or in bed staring at the ceiling: I want to die I want to die I want to die. Sometimes the words ran together into one like a poked yolk—iwantodieiwantodie— but the devils still know what you mean. You can see the gradual change in them, all struggling to make a livable body out of my lie. My almost-lie; a little worm of survival was still swimming in me, but it was easy to smoosh. You can think the life right out of your body, did you know?

Devils one through thirty: the eyes and mouths getting smaller, the joints in the limbs reversing or missing entirely. Thirty-one through fifty-four: some limbs just stop showing up, become torsos pulling themselves around by nubbins that could be limb sprouts or just tumors. Fifty-five through sixty-six: a leech hole in the neck where a head should've sprouted, a squat torso, all vagina. Sixty-seven: a lone arm, inch worming. And then sixty-eight which is nothing.

An evolution of a death wish in miniature.

Grabbing food

U want anything

No thx

U didn't eat yet did you

>:(

N ot rnge

*hungry

thx tho


My spiral was obvious to my friend. She'd been good at checking on me, making me open my door so she could ask me face-to-face if I took my pills or if I called in the refill. I tried not to lie because I'm a butterfingers and whenever a devil pops out of me I always drop or fumble them. You never know when they’re going to emerge from a more exposed part of your body either, like your face or hands. And I'm not smooth like some people who can brush them away and out of sight as easy as a piece of lint. I have no sleight of hand. I’ve never seen Shanna pop a devil out when we talked but I refuse to believe it’s just because she’s honest; she did know a few card tricks, after all.

Something itches in the rolls of my waist and I scratch it absently as I scroll through Twitter. I feel something wet burst under my nail and when I bring my hand back, I see two little legs no longer than dime and a string of rusty intestine wedged beneath my nail. Blood seeps into red-gnawed nail folds. Shit. I fish around my fold for the rest of the body and come back with a little glob of meat, splinters of bone thin as hair.

I guess it wasn't that I wasn't hungry, more so that I didn't want to make the effort to eat. Food tasted like Styrofoam and, no matter the texture or consistency, seemed to slide against the back of my teeth in the same nauseating way, a writhing against my enamel. If you've ever eaten a devil, you might know the feeling. Chewy gristle, elastic toothpick bones, the flailing of their little limbs on your tongue, microscopic fingernails snatching at your uvula. It's nasty to admit you might eat a devil but we all do it, like how everyone eats boogers or scabs or sunburned skin sheets. They couldn't run even if they recognized the hungry licking of your lips, the measuring stare.

There’s an old saying that goes 'La mentira tiene patas cortas' because devils will always be around in life. This was a nod to the fact that they would literally be present but also that they physically could not leave the small radius of your body, a distance of three feet at most usually. If they did go beyond the radius and stayed there, which really only happened by force, they would wither and die. I used to be one of those kids at the parks tying up their devils with blades of dead grass and running six feet away just to watch their bodies spasm and choke.

Most parents didn’t let their kids keep their devils and not just because of the financial burden of caring for them. It was too easy for children to practice cruelty on their devils out of curiosity. After all, they were still human-like despite their disproportions and apraxia that children found so amusing, they still had blood and bone like us. They experienced pain and sometimes communicated primitively. There had also been a recent study about how kids whose parents didn’t curate and monitor their children’s devils interactions had a higher chance of engaging in acts of violence against people as adults.

My mom, an esthetician, was thorough about culling all my devils as a kid. She viewed them as not just pests but physical ailments, a type of disembodied acne. It was easy for her to snap them up from where they dropped and pinch their necks in half.

At her work, one of the most popular treatments she offered involved popping ingrown devils from her client’s skin, half-formed from a lie left unfinished or too many white lies told. They were mostly harmless but, if left too long in the skin, would often result in deep devil boils which were not just painful for the source but painful for the devils. Because they usually emerged face first, this meant a lot of agonized screaming. They could even die stuck in their pus pockets which looked and smelled terrible, like sour meat and rotten eggs.

She never did make much money as an esthetician even though she knew so much about devils. She could list off what they were made of: PGCs, catecholamines, alpha-fetoprotein. More stuff I can't remember but she definitely could. All the money was in psychodermatherapy because even if you could slather someone in retinoids, improve their diet, and keep them from picking their devil-widened pores, they'd never stop getting pock marks if they didn't learn to lie smarter.

Sometimes I had to wait for her to finish work after school so I’d sit outside her room and listen to the devils shrilling as she scooped them out of their cysts with an extractor. One time a client left me with their Westie terrier while they went under my mom’s hand for a full-body extraction session. For two hours, the dog wouldn’t stop whining and nipping at my legs, driven mad by shrill shrieks of exhumed devils. They sounded like a child tauntingly playing a piccolo for the first time, tuneless, hesitant, the loudness fluctuating madly, lie after screeching lie.

I start saying my goodbyes which feels trite, egotistical. Writing them out becomes an exercise in convincing myself I’m worth the paper and ink. I imagine my friends getting these letters and simply saying ‘Finally’ before tossing them in the trash. For my relative, I'm not sure which is the least painful, messages or in-person farewells. I settle on emails to my favorite friends and relatives, scheduled to send in a few days. I don't want to see them in person, hear their opinions on my fat body and ragged skin or to be persuaded otherwise when they clock my mood. I wasn't good at hiding my state of mind or pretending at polite pleasantness. They'd call me out for sure.

I try to think of the last time I saw my parents but it's all a numb blur of depressive amnesia. The first step to suicidal behavior is letting the sadness scrub away your memories, smudge out every happy moment until all that's left is a cumbersome trauma slurry that makes dying feel not just correct but absolutely sane.

I try to recall my abuela and my tutus, but their faces are impressions of impressions in my head, wet napkin pencil renderings. My abuela is the most prominent in my memory, mostly because I dislike her. She always made a show of calling out my devils, snatching them up and shoving them in my face before spanking me or saving them in the fridge for later to show my mom how much of a little liar I was. You're not my granddaughter, you're just your mama's mentito aren't you?

In Latin American countries, they'd taken to calling the devils mentitos. Little lies. In Hawaii, they called them punis, a word that meant deception but also to ‘gain control of’ or ‘overwhelm’. They weren't cute, mostly, not like the Anglo epithet little devil made them out to be and which denoted some canny impishness. No, they tumored off from your body and wriggled into existence with the same level of detail your lies contained: a precocious lie might give you a complete mini simulacrum of yourself, usually the span of your hand in size, pin-boned but whole, maybe with the features bulging unnaturally or the proportions just slightly off. These it was appropriate to hide and dispatch of in private, as they were a product of advanced subterfuge and more or less insulting in a social setting. The more traumatic the lie or larger the magnitude of truth the lie obscured, the smarter the devils got. Some spoke, parroting a mantra of your worst thought loops back at you. Some, spawned with extra lungs, could scream for hours at a time without losing any volume.

An off-handed 'I'm good' when you weren't, might bear forth a single leg, three inches tall with an eye, sometimes not even a mouth to speak or eat or breathe. Those didn't last long, often gasping and seizing without the means to process breath or nutrients. It wasn't unkind or uncommon for a source to simply pluck the devil up and shove them into their pocket and mercy-smother them, smear them quickly under the sole of their shoe.

It was impolite to point these kinds of devils out. Everyone slipped up once in a while and you didn't want to hear the truth anyway, right? And who even knows what truth is, anyway? Humans think they’re so smart but what do they really know? It’s healthy to be skeptical. Besides, the antidote to devils is doubt. You want to stay in the safe gray space between the binaries of black and whites.

“Question everything” an old white motherfucker once said. There might have been more to that quote but that’s the only part anyone remembers. Question. Everything.

And so, we do.

I swear I tried. I made the effort. I did the med trials, the therapy, some ECT. I tried exercising–runner’s high. Endorphins? Never met her–but that seemed to make it worse. When I lost weight my skin ended up sagging, the bags under my eyes drooped, no longer puffed out with fat. Less of my clothes fit and I couldn’t buy more so everything hung off me like a caul.

“You look so much healthier!” my friends would say. “So skinny!”

But they never said I looked good or better because it wasn’t true.

“Babe, you’re isolating yourself! Of course, you’re going to feel bad,” they’d chide me. “You need to get laid A-S-A-P. Have some fun!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell them isolation was just a symptom. Nothing outside could help; it was in me. It was innate. But I tried. I tried because one night when she’d come over to check on me, takeout in hand, her mouth tightened, and her eyes got sort of hollow as she looked at me. The face of someone who realizes they just stepped in dog shit while they were out trying to take a nice walk.

So, I let her sign me up for Cinder and I eventually matched with some guy with a crooked nose and eyes that naturally made his face look it was smiling even when his mouth wasn’t. We tried to have sex but I couldn’t get wet as expected and the cold lube made my stomach twist when he tried to push inside me. I told him it was my fault that I couldn’t get wet, not him, and he looked genuinely understanding and then like I’d just laid down a challenge. A dry pussy is one of the saddest things in the world, he said.

He didn’t sound disappointed but I knew he was. Who wouldn’t be? I felt so pathetic and dead, a desert embodied. It was such an easy thing I needed to do, too. Be a hole. I couldn’t even be a hole for someone. That’s how alien I was now. I wasn’t even made of the same material as the rest of humanity. I was calcified. A broken bone.

He tried eating me out, but I had to push him off. It felt like a truffle pig sniffing around in soil. He tried dirty talk and ending up telling me visible labia were cool. It was trendy not to like them, I guess. Girls today always look tucked in. Like when you push Kleenex back in the box.

I gave him a hand job for his troubles even though my tennis elbow was acting up. As I jerked him off, I noticed a bunch of scabbed pits around his shoulders, his upper back. Devil exit wounds. Had he been lying during our texts? Had he been lying while he was dirty talking and squirreled the devils away before I noticed? Then I realized he hadn’t ever actually complimented me IRL, just compared and contrasted the state of my pussy neutrally. I felt irritated and then latched onto that irritation like a buoy, thrilled by the sudden sensation.

Suckling on the irritation, I got it in my head to try something I’d read on some Seddit back in the day. A mean little experiment. As he got close I asked him to tell me I was beautiful. He did instantly, face shriveled shut, brain clearly off. Of course, he couldn't mean that. I was sallow, drooping and my skin was coarse. I felt like a mangy dog, the first sign of rabidity stirring in my skin.

And then I felt it. Something sharp and rigid in his dick like a fishbone working its way up to the head and then he screamed, high like a smoke alarm, and shoved me away. Rolling on the ground, I could see a half-formed devil arm poking out of his dick, flailing, struggling to emerge.

I had to help him work it free with tweezers because its tiny foot ended up lodged in his urethra. When I finally extracted it, he pushed me from his apartment, sniffing back tears and cursing under his breath. He smashed the little cum devil onto my chest. By the way, I lied! Your pussy look like an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, you crazy bitch!

I jumped back before the slamming door could bust my nose open. The squished devil smear sat like a red petal on my shirt. Its dime-sized hand lay severed on the toe of my shoe, its only fingers left the thumb and the pinky. The smallest shaka in the world.

Like most lies, the devils ended up being sketches of their source, small fleshy caricatures, a cartoonist's cruel impression of your inner self. We called ourselves sources and not parents because they were not children even with the familiar dopey innocence they often had or petulant vehemence they conveyed through spitting tantrums and barking gibberish. It was an insult to compare them to children, really. Animals too. They had more in common with pox than people. Doomsdayers said they were divine curses we needed to nurture as penance. UFO cults believed it was an extraterrestrial pathogen leaked from Area 51. But both groups usually kept to the internet.

Animal rights activists and anti-abortionists were the noisiest, descending on the issue of the ethics around devil dispatch like vultures on a fresh carcass. Their zeal and rhetoric around the right to life quickly adapted to the little devils conundrum. Just because they weren't considered intelligent didn't meant they should be exterminated the same as one might cockroaches or mice or traditionally sized, traditionally born humans. Their status as a pest to the majority of the population did not give their source the right to kill them. In fact, you had knowingly created the tiny being, so it stood to reason that the responsibility fell to you for its continued upkeep and contentment.

There are other ugly arguments the pro-devil movement has made (they prefer the term facets over devils) but that is the one that sticks with me the most. I used to spend most of the day convincing myself that I wanted to be alive and then I have the gall to force these little facets out of me to experience the same shitty life? Hungry, angry, sad, in sick and malformed bodies. None have ever seemed suicidal like me though, even with all the apparent reasons to.

They were actually voracious little things. I mostly couldn't afford to feed mine the popular kibble it was trendy to give them. I let them lick my food wrappers or take-out containers clean which seems like enough for maybe ten of fifteen of them. When I forget to feed them, they scrounge finger and toenail crescents off the floor, chewing them like white watermelon rinds. They don't mind eating hair clots or skin flakes from the baseboards either.

This might sound like everything is cleaner when they're around but they still shit and piss and vomit, though I usually kill the ones that do it uncontrollably. Most of mine are potty-trained and go on a newspaper by the trashcan; they learn fast when you rub their nose a few times in their messes. It's weird pushing your own tiny face into a little dollop of shit but you get used to it.

You'd think the world would've gotten more honest with the little devils but no, people just got better at skirting around direct honesty, evading truth until they were orbiting miles around it, on a whole different planet of tangential rhetoric. It didn’t help that the world routinely shat out stories where ludicrous conspiracies proved true and what was true ended up being a long-constructed and eagerly swallowed lie.

The second phase of emancipating life from body: impressing on yourself that nothing matters, especially you. When truth doesn't matter, neither does reality or self, the abstract or actual. It creates a nice causal chain. Nothing means nothing is nothing. And nothing feels worse or is more freeing than knowing whatever you do will have no effect on anything else.

So it stands to reason I might as well be dead, right? I don’t know why everyone hasn’t come to