Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson


  We tried to enter Sally in dancing school, but she came right home again. She sulked for a week at home, and stormed around the kindergarten like a mad thing. There were high words in the study after dinner, but all pencils were confiscated, and, even though it was agreed that we were not going to say anything more about the clock, my husband made Sally take the spell off Jerry Martin and turn Cheryl’s doll’s head around again, and fix it so the teacher’s umbrella would open right, the way it used to. We got Sally a pair of roller skates, but she gave them to Jannie. She announced at dinner one night that when she grew up she was going to be a mean mean old lady who lived in a forest and people came to her for advice and spells, except, she added, turning to look directly at her father, except wicked trolls.

  The refrigerator door went right on sticking, but I discovered that I could open it by pounding violently on the side of the refrigerator with the frying pan. When I did this Sally liked to sit on the kitchen stool and sneer.

  Then, after perhaps ten days, it seemed that she was relenting a little. She agreed to say good night to her father, and they were able to get back to work again in the kindergarten. Before I could do more than wonder at the change, she came down with chicken pox, although I do not believe it was deliberate. Laurie and Jannie had both had chicken pox, so, on the assumption that Barry might as well catch it now as later, I let him play freely with Sally, and during the long afternoons he sat on the foot of her bed, coloring, looking at books, and listening to Sally’s stories.

  We were coming to have, at that time, a distinct feeling around the family that most of our knotty domestic problems were pellucidly clear to Barry, although he tactfully forbore to comment on them. He had taken to chattering a good deal, a kind of cheerful running series of observations, but he spoke almost entirely in his own language, which bore a disconcerting similarity to our own, so that it was possible to be entrapped into listening closely to him, persuaded that he was communicating something of vital, although cheerful, importance. Consequently I was sure that Sally might safely confide in him and I could sometimes hear his small voice reassuring her in lovely long elegant sentences. As a result of this, of course, Sally became almost the only person able to translate Barry, although I believe that her translations were somewhat free, since Barry seemed so often to be saying exactly what Sally wanted him to.

  When Sally’s spots had begun to fade and she was allowed to come downstairs, interestingly pale and requiring a good many small services, to lie on the living room couch, she was very sweet to all of us. She permitted her father to bring her little phonograph and set it up beside the couch and she accepted, with a wan smile, the small offerings from the rest of us—Little Women, from Jannie, and a little carved dog from Laurie, and paste and colored paper from me; illness, in fact, seemed to have taught her the fruitlessness of anger; we did not perceive at once that something had taught her the usefulness of guile. It was not until her convalescence was almost complete that she showed her hand. One morning Laurie and Jannie had gone off to school as usual, and Sally was enjoying the rare freedom of lingering late over her breakfast while her father and I had our second cups of coffee; because of the imminence of chicken pox Barry had been kept home from nursery school, and he was pushing grains of cereal down to the bottom of the bowl with his cereal spoon and giggling helplessly when they popped up again.

  “Sally,” I said tactfully, “it is most pleasant to have you well again.”

  Sally gave me an inscrutable smile. “I have enjoyed being sick,” she said. “Thank you very much for letting me.”

  “Not at all,” I said. “Barry, eat your cereal.”

  Barry put down his cereal spoon and regarded me darkly. “You untreat me like a genman,” he said. “Once more, Pudge.”

  “Barry!” Sally opened her eyes wide. “Dearest Mommy did not untreat you like a gentleman, and you went and said Pudge without making the magic sign and that’s awful.”

  Hastily Barry slid off his chair and turned slowly around three times. “There,” he said.

  “Wait,” Sally said. “I did, too.” She got down and circled.

  I stared, bewildered, and my husband put down the New York Times. “Besides,” Sally said to Barry, “you promised.”

  “Can I have a srop?” Barry asked me.

  “A srop? What for?”

  “Dangerous trees.”

  “Sally?” I said, appealing.

  She smiled and shrugged.

  “What is Pudge?” my husband said.

  I shook my head, but Sally and Barry both got down off their chairs and circled slowly.

  “You better watch out,” Sally told her father. “Or else make the magic sign.”

  “Get a srop,” Barry advised.

  “Or say something else,” Sally said. “Call him the Great Wizard. Or the Most Powerful One.”

  “Great Grizzard,” Barry said.

  “All right,” I said, “but who—?”

  “Well.” Sally leaned back in her chair and took on her storytelling face, eyes wide and looking far away, hands clasped under her chin. “Well,” she said, “when I decided to put together the land of Oz and the country of the hobbits and Rootabaga and Mother Goose Land, because they were all scattered all over and I kept forgetting which book I had to take to get to each country—well, anyway, I decided to put them all together. Fairyland, too, of course. So it’s all called Gunnywapitat now, and Ozma lives there, and all the hobbits, and the Cowardly Lion and the old woman in the shoe, and Peter Pan, and Oberon and the rest, all there where I can get to them easy. Gunnywapitat. And Pudge helped me.”

  “Magic sign,” my husband put in nervously.

  “Thank you.” Sally got down and turned around. “So I put the entrance to his country right under his tree. Pudge’s tree.” She turned around. “And Barry needs a sword to pertect him because all the other trees have evil spirits trying to get into Gunnywapitat, the big tree and under it all the magic world.”

  “Yggdrasil?” said my husband, startled.

  “What?” said Sally. “Anyway, we go to visit and it’s always in the middle of the night or else while you’re busy or something and if we go in the day we take weapons, because lots of times children go in and they do not ever come out except maybe after—oh, ten years or so. And then they’re old and everything has changed and all their friends are gone and their mothers and fathers.” She gave her father a brief look. “And down there everyone does magic,” she said.

  “So I need a srop,” Barry said.

  “And we have parties with lots of candy and cookies. And the entrance is guarded by lagatours and dragatours.”

  “And policemans.”

  “Of course,” she said, glancing again at her father and then at me, “you couldn’t go.”

  “I am Trixie Pixie,” Barry said smugly. “A lepercorn.”

  “There is one whole city made of chocolate,” Sally said. “Even the houses and the cars and the dogs and cats, all chocolate.”

  “Can I unfinish? My cereal?”

  • • •

  Sally spent most of the morning drawing me a map of Gunnywapitat, showing the chocolate city (Mishmutat) and the river of wild animals (Cody Wop) and the upside-down section (Gilywimpis) and Pudge’s capital city (Gunypostafall); in Gilywimpis, she told me disturbingly, even the birds had wings. In the afternoon the sun was shining and it was so pleasant that I said that she and Barry might play outdoors for a while if they stayed near the house and Sally was careful not to get herself tired, or chilled, or excited. Barry asked to be put into a long-sleeved shirt because they were going to play Gunnywapitat, and he made himself a srop out of a twig. For quite a while I was in the kitchen, cleaning the refrigerator and then scrubbing the kitchen floor, which I had not had time to do while Sally was sick, and I heard them playing happily outside. “Lagatours!” Sally shouted once. “Charg
e!” “Avaunt!” Barry cried, and charged, presumably brandishing his srop.

  Later, when I went upstairs to straighten Sally’s room and make the bed, because I thought that probably she would not want to stay up for dinner after playing outdoors, I could still hear them distantly for a while, but when I moved on to pick up the crayons from Barry’s floor they were out of earshot. I decided to straighten Barry’s bookcase, and so I stayed upstairs longer than I had thought to, and when I came down to the kitchen again I went to call them in for fruit juice and cookies, and they were not there. I went outside and looked up and down the driveway, and out across the lawn, calling them, and then went and looked in the barn, calling them, and then behind the barn, still calling, and then I went all around the outside of the house. Anywhere farther than that was out of bounds, as they both knew.

  I sat down on the back steps and tried to think. I knew they could not have come to any harm because our big dog Toby was lying comfortably in the sun in the barn doorway and even though Toby has never growled at anyone except the laundry man I was fairly sure that he would do something if any danger approached, even if it was only to come into the house and try to hide behind me. Toby’s presence also argued that they were nearby. I called again and again, and Toby lifted his head and looked at me wonderingly, as though Sally and Barry were right in plain sight and he could not understand the increasing agitation in my voice. I did not like to go in and call my husband at the college; when I saw Laurie come up the street on his bike I got up and went to meet him with as little appearance of concern as I could manage.

  “Laurie,” I said, “Sally and Barry have wandered away somewhere. I can’t find them.”

  “Pudge’s tree, probably,” Laurie said. He rode past me and toward the barn door, going swiftly, directly at Toby. Toby yawned and closed his eyes, and Laurie braked the bike an inch from Toby’s nose. “You lazy dog,” he said. Toby yawned again. “Go look in Pudge’s tree,” Laurie called back at me.

  “Where is it?”

  He took his bike into the barn, wheeling it carefully past Toby, and reappeared. “I thought you knew,” he said. “Want a cookie?” he asked Toby, and Toby, alert, rose and followed him toward the back door.

  “Laurie,” I said, “listen.”

  “Sure,” he said. “Don’t you worry. Pudge’ll bring them back okay.”

  Jannie came along a few minutes later, lingering and giggling with her friend Carole; Jannie said that Sally and Barry were almost certainly in Pudge’s tree, and Carole added that her little sister Jeanie had often told all of them at their house about Sally’s friend Pudge and his magic tree. “Jeanie says that Sally goes there lots,” Carole said, and Jannie added, “Pudge takes good care of them, it’s all right,” and they went on into the house to join Laurie and Toby at the cookie jar.

  For almost half an hour, only the combined efforts of Laurie and Jannie, and Carole’s offers to go home and get Jeanie and ask her, prevented me from telephoning my husband at the college, or our local policeman, or at least my mother in California. Then we heard laughter from behind the barn, and Sally and Barry wandered toward us, holding hands and chatting happily.

  They refused to say where they had been. I held on to them, and stumbled questions, trying to keep my voice gentle, and Sally shook her head and smiled. “I said I wouldn’t tell about it,” she explained. “You can’t, with a magic country, because then they won’t let you come back, ever. Were we gone for ten years? Because everyone looks about the same.”

  “Barry,” I said, “where did you go? With Sally?”

  “Cookies,” he said, grinning. “Many happy cookies, and the flowers on a queen.”

  “He says he won’t tell,” Sally said hastily.

  The next morning, when I got up after a night spent checking on Sally and Barry every half hour, I found a great tub full of spring flowers on the back porch, tulips and daffodils and pussy willows. There was a note tucked in among the stems, and it read: “Thanks so much for letting the children come; delighted with their little visit. Tell Barry I’ll send him a ‘flinky’ one of these days. Hope you like their flowers. ‘Pudge.’”

  I showed the note to my husband privately, and we decided that perhaps it was not altogether healthy to let Sally fill her mind with these fancies, and we would say no more about it. However, later, when Barry stopped in the bathroom doorway to watch his father shaving, it seemed a good moment for a diplomatic question, and his father said carelessly, “By the way, when you went to Pudge’s yesterday, what was he wearing?”

  “Crown,” said Barry.

  “Was anyone else there?”

  “Trixie Pixie?”

  “No,” said his father. “Where did you go?”

  “You are the daddy,” said Barry reassuringly, “and I am the Barry, and Sally is the Sally, and Jannie is the Jannie and Laurie is the Laurie and Mommy is the Mommy.”

  • • •

  When I married the man who is at present my husband and the father of my children it did not occur to me to specify that his behavior should in no way prevent my buying an evening paper. It is not a usual request to make during such a ceremony, for one thing, and, for another thing, the possibility of my being unable to buy an evening paper if I wanted one seemed, to say the least, remote.

  Actually, it was only for about three days that we had to do without the paper. Thanks to a fortunate hurricane which took part of the cornice off the First National Bank most of the affair was quickly forgotten, and since my husband’s cigarette lighter broke almost at once, the subject largely died down, to be revived only by the most tactless and humorous of our friends. I wonder sometimes if things could have been handled differently in some way, but of course there is not much use worrying about it now. If, perhaps, I had refused to call Mr. Williams back in Burlington? If I had neglected to answer the phone at all?

  Whenever the phone rings I have of course the quick wonderful thought that some remarkable and astonishing surprise is going to happen. (“Lonesome for you in California; plane tickets arriving special delivery . . .” “Investigation proves you only surviving heir . . .”) However, what I always expect is a kind of surprise for me, too. When I answered the phone on a bright morning when the sun was really warm and the trees were really green and the air had that authentic scent of flowers, it was a call for my husband, from a man with a pleasant, although unfamiliar, gentlemanly voice. He asked for my husband by calling him “the Professor,” which is perhaps a legitimate title for a teacher in a girls’ college, but which is a title rarely, if ever, used except by the kind of friend who thinks that sort of thing is terribly funny. At any rate, I held out the phone and remarked that it’s for you, Professor, and my husband grudgingly put down a gold moidore he was checking for precise weight and went to the phone.

  I heard him say “Hello?” and then “What?” and then “What?” Then he sighed and said, “All right, all right. And what did you say your name was?”

  There was a long silence and then he hung up.

  “Yes, dear?” I asked, hovering. (“Paris concern offering all expenses you and family . . .”)

  “Look,” he said. “I want you to pick up that telephone and call a man named John Williams, at the Gazette, in Burlington, Vermont. Person to person. Collect.”

  “Why?”

  “Never mind why. He just said that if I thought it was a practical joke I could hang up and call him right back and prove he was a real person.”

  “Why should you have to prove—”

  “Never mind why,” my husband said again. He laughed shortly. “Prominent local educator!” he said.

  Eying my husband apprehensively, I took up the phone and put through a call, person to person, collect, to John Williams, Burlington Gazette, Vermont. Because Burlington is only a hundred miles from the small Vermont town where we live my call went through smoothly, unlike a call to New
York City, for instance, when—because of course New York City is not in Vermont—it is sometimes necessary to spell out everything, beginning with N for Norman, E for Edwin, W for Wilfred, Y for Yolanda, and so on. When I heard the same pleasant unfamiliar voice on the other end of the line, and he agreed that he was indeed John Williams, I said, “Hello, Mr. Williams?”

  “Right,” he said cheerfully. “Give us the Professor.”

  I might say that I have rarely seen such an expression on my husband’s face. Delighted, he was, and yet incredulous. He kept saying, “I can’t believe it,” and, “This must be a joke.” He and Mr. Williams talked for a long time, and every few minutes my husband would give a little giggle.

  When he finally said, “Well, I’ll see you on the fifteenth, then,” and hung up, there I was, right next to him, curious, and—I had been married for fourteen years—deeply suspicious.

  “Well?” I said in a voice used by wives who have been married for fourteen years. “Well?”

  “Well,” my husband said, putting his shoulders back and pulling in his stomach. “Well.”

  I followed him into the study and resisted a strong impulse to slap the gold moidore right out of his hand. “Well?” I said.

  My husband looked at me out of the corners of his eyes and opened and shut his mouth several times. “Now I want you to be reasonable,” he said at last.

  I prepared myself to be reasonable. I sat down quietly in a chair, clenched my fists, and smiled tightly. “It’s only,” my husband said, “that I have to go to Burlington.”

  “So?”

  “Well,” he said hesitantly, “I’m going to Burlington, is all.”

  “How perfectly splendid,” I said. “I know how you’ve longed to see Burlington.”

  “I don’t know why they picked on me,” my husband said. “A prominent local educator is what Mr. Williams kept telling me. It certainly isn’t anything I ever thought of doing. And of course,” he finished brightly, “it might still be a practical joke.”

 
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