Horror Hounds
Published in

Horror Hounds

The Devil Lives in My Friend’s Right Ear

Photo by Franco Antonio Giovanella on Unsplash

I was nodding off, when my Lit teacher told everyone in our class to pair up. At the sound of scampering feet, and chairs scraping the linoleum floor, I snapped awake, straightened myself up, and looked around. The others had chosen their partners. And not one of them thought to approach me.

“Jejomar, looks like you’ll have to pair up with Alberto,” said the teacher.

My stomach curled when I spotted a lumpy shadow in the far corner at the back of the classroom looking like a sad sack of potatoes.

Berto the Weirdo.

That was the unfortunate name my peers had tacked on him. And they weren’t exactly wrong. Berto was a strange 17-year-old boy. He’d say the most peculiar, sometimes outlandish, statements. One of them caused a ruckus at school the previous month, and it nearly got him expelled.

He had cut off our history teacher mid-lecture, and blurted out that Abraham Lincoln, 16th US president, was going to rise from the dead and invade the school along with his dead army of Union soldiers. And he advised that we should heed his warning carefully. There was going to be an invasion.

The class fell dead silent. We all gawked at him. He couldn’t be serious, we all thought. But he didn’t blink, his dried lips didn’t crack a smile. Berto was serious. After a moment of suspense, someone burst into laughter. Then, one by one, the others joined in.

“Lincoln wasn’t even buried in this state!” the history teacher cried through his laughter.

They didn’t see how Berto’s eyes narrowed, how his ears burned red, and how he ground his teeth and muttered under his breath, “You’ll see soon enough.”

The following day he swaggered into school dressed up like a gunslinger with a Winchester rifle slung over his shoulder and a set of daggers underneath his long leather coat. But Abraham Lincoln and his dead army of Union soldiers didn’t rise from their graves and invade the school. The rifle was fake, though that couldn’t keep him out of trouble. The school was put on lockdown and everyone else scattered to the closest rooms they could find and locked themselves in, until the cops arrived.

After that went on, somehow Berto was allowed to stay at the school. Some said it was because his dad, a rich businessman of an obscure trade, wrote the School Board a fat check. Money talks, as they say.

Now, Berto the Weirdo was going to be my partner for a stupid class assignment.

“Um…” I uttered as I shot my hand up in the air.

The teacher turned from the chalkboard and raised a brow. “Yes?”

“Can I work alone?”

“No.”

“But — ”

“I think I’ve told you to pair up with Alberto!”

“Fucking hell,” I grumbled.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing!”

I braced myself. I needed every ounce of the universe’s mystical powers to get me through this hour-long ordeal.

Seeing that the lumpy sack of potatoes wasn’t going to move where I was, I picked up my notebook and textbook, and plopped into the empty desk beside him. Berto didn’t have his textbook, not even a pencil or a notebook. I knew right then I’d be carrying the weight of the assignment for both of us. And I’d completely forgotten what story we were reading in class.

“Hey, do you even know which chapter we’re supposed to be reading?” I asked him, but he didn’t respond, not even a glance over in my direction. He was busy biting the skin around his thumb and staring at the bloody progress he’d made chewing it off.

I waved my hand in front of his face. He slowly turned. His gaze crept along my skin. I shuddered. An unsettling presence lurked behind those brown eyes. I couldn’t put a finger to what exactly it was, but it frightened me.

“I can’t hear with my right ear,” he said, flatly. “You’ve got to be on my left side.”

Grumbling, I lifted the desk slightly off the floor and scooted over to his left side, wedging myself between him and another student, who threw me a nasty look for bumping into her leg and letting one of the legs of the desk stomp on her backpack on the floor. But after I had settled down to flip open my textbook, a sudden gust of wind came out from nowhere and leafed through the pages. I watched in confused shock until it landed on a page with a picture of the Devil. Flashing his pearly whites, he seemed to stare at me from the page, with barely conceived malice. It was a chapter on the portrayals of the Devil in classic literature with excerpts from Milton’s Paradise Lost, Goethe’s Faust, and Dante’s Inferno.

I scooted my desk closer to Berto and laid the book between us. He glanced at the picture and giggled. With his face turned away from me, he was whispering to someone else, though there was no one on the other side of him.

I tapped him on the shoulder.

Slowly, he turned to face me. “Yeah, what?”

“We need to get started on the assignment.”

I still didn’t know what exactly we were supposed to do. I squinted at the chalkboard trying to make out the chalky scribbles. I needed to focus but Berto’s giggling was distracting.

“What are you laughing about?” I snapped.

Grinning, he shrugged. “It’s nothing.”

“Well, if it’s so funny, then I want to know.”

He stroked the sparse hairs on his chin and pondered for a moment. And then, he leaned over and, tapping a finger on the Devil’s picture, he whispered, “Mr. Friendly thinks he’s much more handsome than this coxcomb here,” slapping a hand over his mouth to hide his snickering, “but I told him that all goats look the same anyway.”

“Who the hell is Mr. Friendly?”

I thought perhaps he had a Bluetooth piece in his ear and was chatting with someone on the phone. But then he pointed to his right ear. The ear with which he claimed he couldn’t hear well.

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“He lives right here,” he said, rubbing the ear. “I think it’s why I can’t hear with this ear; Mr. Friendly takes up all the space inside and — damn — he sure is a loud talker.”

I didn’t know how to respond, honestly. I scanned the room hoping that maybe — just maybe — there was another classmate without a partner. The students, however, were all perfectly paired up, and by the look on their faces, they were glad to not have ended up with Berto. Some threw a pitiful glance at me.

Berto frowned. “You don’t believe me, I know.”

Of course not! Why would anyone believe anything he said? This was the same guy who was convinced that the tomato sauce in the school’s cheese pizza was made with the blood of aborted fetuses. That rumor spread faster than wildfire ripping through a dry-ass Arizona field on a summer’s day. It riled up some folks. They stormed the cafeteria and screamed at the workers. A vicious brawl broke out, and it ended with the head lunch lady being sent to the hospital with a spork in her eye, but no arrests were made.

“Don’t you know what you’re saying?” I asked him. “I mean it’s…” I paused to search for the right word without setting him off. “It’s…just — I mean — -just so, bizarre!

He glowered.

“Besides,” I went on, “it’s probably earwax that’s clogging your ear canal.”

He rummaged through his backpack and pulled out a small flashlight. “See for yourself,” he said, handing me the flashlight. I balked but he egged me on. “Come on, look!”

He twisted his body around, so that I could peer into his right ear with the light. Aside from the white flakes sprinkled about in the outer part, his ear canal was deep and pitch-black, meaning that there was nothing there.

As I was about to tell him how much he was full of shit and that I was quite sure it was a thick wad of earwax sitting deep in the canal, when I thought I heard — no, no, couldn’t bebut there it was again…a distinctive, clear and crisp, voice saying, “Salutations Jejomar,” and then the squeaking hinges of a door being shut closed.

A loud smack rang in the air. I jumped.

The teacher had slapped a long ruler against the chalkboard, and it had broken in half.

“Jejomar! Alberto! This isn’t playtime!” she shrilled, glaring at me and Berto. “Get back to work!”

I shoved the flashlight back into his hands and attempted to read a passage, but I couldn’t focus. The words on the page blended into one inky whirlpool. My mind wondered back to Berto’s right ear, and it made me remember the time when my dad took my little sister to a healer.

After she had complained about mind-numbing headaches, my parents drove my sister to the doctor who conducted several tests and yet found nothing wrong. Healthy as an ox, he told them. But then she started bleeding from her eyes and nose. My dad carried her to the healer who lived in an old apartment complex down the block.

The healer was an elderly man who we called Papay. My dad laid my sister down on the couch. Papay grabbed an egg from the kitchen and rubbed my sister’s head with it, while mumbling a prayer under his breath. At that time, I thought ‘oh, boy, here we go. We were going to get swindled out of a hundred bucks.’

Those thoughts, however, were erased when Papay cracked the egg into a bowl and, instead of, the clear egg white with the yolk at its center, it was deep brown spotted with white fuzzy spores. He told dad that my sister had a malicious spirit inside of her. He called it a demònio. To extract the demònio, Papay concocted a special drink. He stirred hot water in a mug with calamansi, a root, and a white powder.

My sister’s face scrunched up. The taste was too sour and too bitter, but she did what she was told and drank every drop. Then, the mug slipped from her hands. Her head whipped back, and she let out a terrible gut-wrenching scream as a tiny wrinkly hairless pink creature with the face of a red-eyed rat crawled out of her nostril. The demònio made for the door, but Papay, who was as swift as a hawk, caught it with his left foot, pinching it between his big toe and pointer toe. With a quick snap, he popped its head like a fat red pimple squirting out a gush of yellow pus.

My stomach churned just thinking about it. But then, an idea sprung up.

“I’ll believe you,” I said to Berto, “if you do a simple test.”

Intrigued, Berto raised a brow. “A test?”

“Yes, it’s a test to see if you’re telling the truth.”

“All right, test me, then!”

I dug through my bag and retrieved an egg from a small Tupperware. It was a hard-boiled egg, but I thought it would do the trick the same as Papay’s.

“Rub your right ear with this and if the egg turns black and moldy inside,” I explained, “then that means Mr. Friendly is there, and if it’s white — ”

Berto snatched the egg from my hand before I could finish. He rubbed it on his right ear in circles and handed it back to me, looking on expectantly. As I peeled off the shell, a revolting odor dominated the classroom without mercy. It ripped through my nostrils and watered my eyes. It was as if I had stepped into a public restroom where the smell of urine and excrement thickened the moist air.

“No eating in class!” the teacher screamed. She pointed to a poster of classroom rules on the wall. “Put that aw — ” she stopped abruptly, her face turning green. Slapping a hand over her mouth, she bolted out of the classroom.

The other students were retching. They knocked over the desks and chairs as they scrambled for the door. Some went straight to the windows and flung them open.

I also rushed to the windowsill and gasped for air. When I swerved around, sliding to the floor completely winded, I watched Berto pick up the rotten egg off the floor, sniffed it, and gobbled it up. There was no doubt in my mind that a demònio was living in Berto’s ear. And judging by the stink the egg exuded, it was an incredibly malevolent one. Now, I realized, perhaps it was the reason why he’d say and do things that were so…unhinged.

“All right, I believe you,” I said, settling back into my desk.

Glaring at Berto, the other students returned to their seats and whispered among themselves. And with the teacher being absent, a few took the opportunity to ditch the class.

Berto’s eyes lighted up. “Oh, do you now?”

“Yes, sure.” I nodded. “But don’t you think that Mr. Friendly isn’t so — well — very friendly?”

Again, he stroked the hairs on his chin and thought hard. “He’s been annoying me lately. He never shuts up. Sometimes he wants me to do things. I mean, sometimes they’re fun things. Like the time when we snuck into the principal’s house and brought his cat home with us.”

He chuckled fondly at the memory.

My eyes widened. “That was you!” I had heard about the principal’s missing cat and had seen the ‘lost cat’ posters around the school. “What happened to it? What did you do with it?”

He sighed. “Mr. Friendly got hungry.”

“Fuck, Berto!”

“But he crossed the line when he wanted my dog!”

“So, do you want to give Mr. Friendly an eviction notice, then?”

He nodded with a mournful look. “You don’t understand how this is driving me close to the breaking point!” He yanked at his hair. “I need help. Can you help me?”

“Why would I help you?”

“Because you’re my partner in this class.”

Well, not by choice. But I kept my mouth shut.

“And you’re the type,” he continued, “to help a fellow man, no matter who it is, whether he be a bum on the streets or not. You have a good sense of morals; you know what is right and wrong.”

“How can I help, though?”

Berto’s eyes twinkled with a glimmer of hope that I might finally offer him the relief that he so desperately craved. And though Berto and I weren’t the best of friends, I was willing to save another fellow human being.

“I’ve tried to pick him out with a pair of tweezers,” he said, “but it was too difficult. There’s something in the way. And I was a little scared to continue; I thought I might accidentally puncture my eardrum.”

“You want me to try to pick your ear?”

He rifled through his pockets and took out the slender tweezers. “Yes,” he affirmed, handing me the tool and the flashlight.

I grimaced.

Normally, if anyone were to ask me to clean their ear, I’d downright turn them down. But this was different. This was another human being who was suffering. He had a demònio in his ear, and he needed help. My help. So, peering into his ear with the flashlight, I inserted the tweezers, going deep, until it bumped into something hard. I poked at it a couple of times.

“Ah, ah!” Berto cried.

“Does it hurt?”

“No, it’s just loud. Like you’re banging on a door inside my ear.”

“Hold on. I think I’ve got it.”

I squeezed the tweezers on something, and after a few tugs, something gave way, and I withdrew of what appeared to be a door made from amber-colored wax with its hinges and doorknob of a hardened blackish crust.

“Ah, wonderful!” Berto whooped. “I can hear clearly now!”

I flicked the wax chunk away and shined the light into the ear canal.

“Do you see him?” he asked.

“No, I can’t.”

He laid his head on his desk with his right side facing up. “Look a little closer.”

I upped the brightness on the flashlight and, drawing myself closer to his ear, I squinted. A gust of hot wind whipped about me, lifting notebooks, textbooks, pencils, and papers up into the air in circles. Every second the wind grew stronger, hotter.

Covering my head with my arms, I ducked under a desk, and when the storm had calmed, I opened my eyes and found myself in a scorching tunnel. At one end was a bright light, while on the other end was the pitch-black abyss. I tried to turn on the flashlight, smacking it against the wall, but it only lasted a fleeting moment before flickering away and dying.

I had this unshakeable feeling that something was watching me from the darkness. Then a voice called out to me. Every nerve in my body screamed at me to run. Something was coming. Closer and closer. I made a mad dash towards the light end of the tunnel. And as I ran to the light, the ground began to shake, throwing me off my feet. And a great amber wall of wax materialized before me, completely blocking the light and sealing me in the darkness.

I wanted to scream but the torrid air burned my throat and lungs. My eyes wilted and crumbled like crushed autumn leaves. My mouth dried up and tongue shriveled like a sundried pepper. All the moisture in my body was evaporating, and I crumpled to the ground. I lied there powerless, too weak to fight off Mr. Friendly as he dragged me by the legs into his lair.

If you enjoyed this story, follow me on Medium (@cgacosta)! Also on Twitter: @ckgacosta. You can also check out some more stories and poetry on my website: cgacosta.weebly.com.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store