Lindsay Church sat at the dining table in a grand room with impressive bay windows and an ocean view, picking at her dinner. Her mother had said it was chicken in some sort of sauce that Lindsay had already forgotten the name of. But to her ten-year-old eyes it looked like chicken dumped in vomit. Lindsay thought she'd rather take a walk into town and grab a burger from that nice little place on the seafront. After all, they were supposed to be on holiday, but her mum and dad had insisted on a nice family dinner, something that was a rare occurrence these days.

Lindsay looked around the table. Her father, Paul Church, a greying man in his early fifties, sat at the head of the table, ignoring his food and thumbing the screen of his phone. She wasn't quite sure what he did for a living, something to do with science, but she knew that he was rich. She also knew that he spent most of his days at work and hardly any time at home with his family; especially his two children. Lindsay didn't mind so much. She didn’t particularly like her dad. He was moody and bossy, thinking he was in charge even though he was never around. And he was never interested in anything that she had to say. Sometimes she wondered if he even forgot he had a daughter.

It hadn't always been that way. There had been a time when she was younger, when he’d get home in time to read her bedtime stories. There had been a time when he had been interested in her thoughts and ideas, even the strange ones. Then there’d been all that trouble last year and her dad’s face had been in the newspapers and on the television. He hadn’t been the same since.

Lindsay’s gaze shifted across to the other end of the table, where her mother, Donna Church, sat staring unhappily at her husband while also picking at her food. Lindsay wondered if her mum felt the same as she did: what was the point of a family holiday if they were all going to continue ignoring each other? That was just another a day in the Church family. She'd overheard her parents arguing last night. Her mother had wanted to know why they even owned a second home in Cornwall when it sat empty fifty weeks of the year. Her father had called her mother ungrateful, which hadn’t gone down well.

Sitting across from Lindsay was her elder brother, Todd. Todd had recently turned seventeen, which apparently made him think he was an adult now, even though everyone knew you weren’t an adult until you turned eighteen. Being seventeen also made Todd think he was better than Lindsay. She sneered in disgust as she watched him shovel food into his mouth, his eyes on his phone just like their father. She didn't much like her brother, either. All he ever did was whine and complain at her. Don't go into my room! Don't touch my stuff! Don’t interrupt me! Et cetera, et cetera. Moan, moan, moan. Lindsay didn’t know what else he expected from her? She was ten years old. Anyway, she still hadn’t forgiven him for the dead arm he’d gifted her with yesterday when their parents weren’t watching. He was always doing that—giving her a quick jab to the ribs or a punch to her upper arm, all because he didn’t like her playing with his phone. It wasn’t her fault that her parents wouldn’t let her have a phone of her own, and it certainly wasn’t her fault that he’d taken puke-inducing naked pictures of himself and left them in the pictures folder for anyone to see.

Lindsay stared at her food again. Puffing out her cheeks, she set down her fork and turned to gaze out the large bay windows at the far end of the room. In the near distance, the sky was turning all shades of orange, red, and purple. It looked like a big bruise, Lindsay thought. Like the one on her arm thanks to her stupid brother. Beneath the sky, the sea was calm and flat and growing darker by the second.

They'd been here for three days now and still hadn't gone down to the beach, even though it was only across the road. Dad had spent most of the time working in his study, while all Mum wanted to do was explore boring towns and go to boring galleries. Lindsay only ever got to see the sea once a year and she desperately wanted to dip her toes in it. Living in London, she got to see the River Thames sometimes, but it wasn’t the same. The Thames was dirty and disgusting and surrounded by concrete, and if you dipped your toes into it you’d probably never see them again. The ocean was like a mysterious beast, rising and shifting as far as the eye could see. If she had to suffer a week’s holiday with her annoying family, couldn’t they allow her, just for once, to do something that she wanted?

“Mum?” Lindsay said.

Donna heaved a shoulder, shifted her gaze to her daughter. “Hmm?”

“Tomorrow, can we go down to the beach?”

“I thought we could go to Truro. Do some shopping and visit the Cathedral.”

“But we’ve been here for three days now. We can go shopping any time.”

“Oh, Lindsay, you know I don't like the sun. It brings me out in hives. Besides, what about sand flies?”

Lindsay sank into the chair and stuck out her lower lip. She didn’t care about sand flies. She wanted to go swimming.

“Maybe your brother can take you,” her mother suggested.

Across the table, Todd glanced up from his phone and snorted. “Don't get me involved.”

“I thought you'd be first on the beach,” Donna said. “I thought that’s why you’ve been working out so much lately—so you can show off your abs to the girls.”

Lindsay wrinkled her face. “Gross.”

“Shut it, brat.” Todd shifted his attention back to his phone. “Anyway, I can’t tomorrow because I'm meeting some friends.”

“What friends?” Lindsay said. “You don't know anyone down here.”

“Mind your own business.”

Lindsay sighed and picked up her fork again. “Must be a girl, then. Maybe she'll take me to the beach.”

“What girl?” their mother asked. “When have you met some girl?”

Todd rolled his eyes. “There’s no girl! We've been coming here for five years now. There’s a bunch of guys I’m friends with and tomorrow we’re going surf—”

He stopped short. Lindsay sat up, eyes sparkling.

“Surfing? You’re going to the beach? Then I can go with you.”

“No way. I don’t want you hanging around and bringing down the mood.”

“I won’t, I promise. I wont’ even talk to your so-called friends! Mum, please say I can go with him?”

She stared at her mother with begging eyes. Donna sipped her wine.

“Take your sister with you,” she said.

Todd shook his head. “Forget it.”

“Please, Todd,” Lindsay whined. “I promise I’ll be on my best behaviour and I won't try to embarrass you or anything.”

“You'd embarrass me just by being there.”

Lindsay narrowed her eyes. Why did big brothers always suck?

At the far end of the table, Paul Church, who had been quiet until now, glanced up from his phone.

“Take your sister with you,” he said.

Todd’s face reddened. “No, that’s not fair. I–”

“It’s not up for debate. You want to be treated like an adult, you need to act like one. Take some responsibility.”

Lindsay watched as her brother’s face crumpled, then twisted into a grimace. He glowered at her across the table. Lindsay swallowed and stared at her food. Great, she thought. Now I’m going to get another dead arm. At least she was getting to go to the beach.

Picking up her fork again, she speared some chicken and popped it into her mouth. It tasted gross but she swallowed it down. Tomorrow, when she was at the beach, she’d go the burger bar on the seafront and use some of her pocket money to get a big, fat, greasy hamburger. Maybe she’d even get one for Todd, so he didn’t hate her so much for ruining his day.

At the end of the table, Donna picked up her wine glass and returned to staring unhappily at her husband. Todd sat, silently seething and staring at his phone like he wanted to smash it into smithereens. Paul had already zoned out from his family and still hadn’t touched a bite of his meal.

The drone of the front door buzzer cut through the silence.

In unison, the Church family looked up, stared at each other, then turned their heads in the direction of the open dining room door.

“Who could that be?” Donna said but made no move to find out.

Paul shook his head. “Probably charity collectors. They'll try their luck anywhere. Just ignore it.”

Lindsay didn't want to ignore it. No one ever came knocking at the door of their holiday home. Probably because it stood empty fifty weeks of the year. She wondered who it could be. She stood, scraping her chair on the polished floorboards.

“I'll get it.”

Her father arched an eyebrow. “You’ll do no such thing. Sit down and eat your dinner.”

Lindsay sat down again, glancing at her father’s untouched plate.

The door buzzer sounded again.

“What if it’s one of the neighbours?” Donna said. “I don't want to seem rude…”

“You don't even know the neighbours,” Paul said. “Besides, half of the houses around here are holiday homes. They’re probably empty.”

Whoever was at the door started knocking, making them all look up again.

Paul heaved his shoulders, muttered something under his breath. “Todd, make yourself useful and answer the door.”

Todd opened his mouth to protest. A withering look from his father made him shut it again. Huffing, he grabbed his phone from the table and stood up. Lindsay watched him stomp across the floorboards, then listened to his feet stomp along the hall. A second later she heard the snap of the door latch as Todd opened the front door.

And then… Nothing.

She waited to hear voices. But there were none. Which was weird. She waited a few seconds more, then glanced at her mother, who shook her head and stared at her father. The silence continued.

“Who is it, Todd?” Donna called out. All eyes were fixed on the open dining room door. A stillness fell over their room that was as hot and stifling as a blanket on a summer’s day. Lindsay shifted uncomfortably, not quite why she suddenly felt as if her clothes were too small or why her skin was itching like she'd been stung by nettles. She looked at her mother and father again, noticing their faces shared the same perplexed expression.

“Todd?” Donna called. She shot another uncertain look at Paul, who shrugged but made no move to get up.

 Lindsay's gaze returned to the open door, the silence rushing in like rolls of thunder. Her mother got to her feet.

They heard movement from out in the hall; footsteps coming towards them. Todd was not alone.

Lindsay watched as her brother entered the room.

Except it wasn't Todd.

It was the Devil.

Eyes growing wide, Lindsay stared at the man standing in the doorway, taking in his dark clothing and the terrifying mask that hid his features. It was the Devil’s face. Red skin. Yellow, reptilian eyes. A wicked grin brimming with shark’s teeth that stretched all the way up to two barbed horns.

For a second, the Church family stared at the man. Confusion quickly turned into fear. Fear into terror. Then Lindsay's mother's hands flew up to her mouth and her father's jaw fell open. Frozen, Lindsay just stared, her eyes moving from the horrific mask to the glistening butcher's knife in the man's hand.

More footsteps. Three more people entering the room. All dressed in the same dark clothing. All wearing the face of the Devil. All clutching sharp blades.

Paul slowly got to his feet.

“What is this?” he asked. His voice trembled and he didn’t sound at all like Lindsay's father.

The four devils stood silently in the doorway, their red masks grinning from ear to ear.

Across the table, Donna’s complexion had turned a deathly grey.

“Todd?” she whispered. “Where is Todd?”

“I said, what is this?” Paul’s voice was louder this time. He was trying to regain some control. “Where's my son?”

Lindsay's eyes flicked back to the four intruders. A deep pressure manifested in her bladder.

Slowly, their leader lifted a finger to his masked mouth.

“Shhhhh…” His finger moved from his mouth and pointed at Paul’s chair. “Sit down.”


Copyright© Malcom Richards 2019