Friday, November 27, 2009

Spencer Holst: On Demons

In the olden days of the Arabian Nights a fisherman threw his raggle-taggle net into the Mediterranean. He pulled, and pulled, and pulled the net onto the shore, and he discovered nothing in it except an old ivory jar. He lifted a piece of seaweed off the jar, and saw that it was ancient and intricately carved with a procession of people and beasts winding spirally around it, so that whichever way he turned it three lines of people appeared. At the top was a stopper. It was made of lead. On it was impressed the Seal of Solomon.

The fisherman opened the jar and smoke began to come out of it, began to pour out of it, making a rushing sound, and the smoke gathered into a large cloud, and the cloud became the body of a demon, or jinn, or genie, or genius ... or call it whatever you want.

The demon put the fisherman in the palm of his hand, and gave him a choice of a number of hideous deaths.

"But I was the one who freed you!," protested the fisherman.

"Listen," said the demon, "I've been in that jar for 50,000 years. For the first five thousand I joyfully planned how I would reward the man who freed me ... I would turn him into an emperor! Give him palaces, the whole world for his dominion .... But ten thousand years passed, and I began to be a little depressed, and I lost some of my enthusiasm, yet I said to myself: whoever frees me, I'll give him a comfortable princedom, a good castle, servants, so he'll be set for life .... But more years passed, and after 15,000 years I became so disgusted, so disgruntled, that I decided I wouldn't give any reward to the fool who chanced to free me .... But as more time passed I began to hate humanity, they who ignored me ... And I began to devise methods of murder, of torture .... Oh! The things I've thought these 35,000 years .... I have daydreamed of this day, and of the way I should kill you. I have thought up thirteen horrendous ways for you to die. These are the ways: listen carefully, for I shall give you your choice."

"You can obviously do whatever you want with me," said the fisherman. "You can kill me on the spot. But nevertheless, the truth is the truth, and you're a liar."

"What?!" said the demon.

"You couldn't have been in this ivory jar. Look how small this jar is, and look at yourself, you're as big as a mountain. Any child could see that you aren't telling the truth. You're a liar. Kill me if you want, but don't expect me to believe your fairytales, don't make me laugh. Kill me if you want, but don't expect me to believe that you spent centuries in this little jar. Don't be ridiculous. Kill me if you want, but don't expect me to believe such an obvious fable."

"What?!" said the demon. "I'll show you!"

Whereupon his body began to dissolve into a huge cloud of smoke, which began to twirl like a tornado, and the smoke condensed and entered the ivory jar, and the fisherman quickly replaced the stopper, and it has remained there until this very day.

(Drawings by Beate Wheeler. On Demons was published in 1970 by Doctor Generosity Press. Further information on the author can be found at the Spencer Holst Papers page at the University of Texas at El Paso.)

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