The poor boy just touched it, just a brush of the pads of his fingertips and the whisper of skin against the brass, and everything stopped. From the spout boiled something red and dark and quivering into a great cloud of bloody air which gathered and pulsed until in the mass of red could be seen the shape of a body.The man folded his arms and peered down at the boy, who quaked and tried not to whimper.
The red man sank to the ground. His body trailed into mist after the waist, but he could have been sitting. He spoke, and his voice was dark and shaking. “Listen, child,” he said, “Three, and that is all. Use them well, for you are a little lamb of a thing.”
The boy thought that perhaps this meant that the demon would take pity on him, and he drew in his breath to speak. “Please, sir,” he said, his voice a thread, “I didn’t mean to. I don’t know what I did. I am small, and, and, like you said, I’m not going to hurt anyone, I don’t know what I did.”
The red man bent closer and with his sharp red teeth showing, he smiled. “Ah,” he said to the boy. “A lost lamb, yes. So lost. I will explain to you, dear one, and then you will understand. You’ve heard stories, you know what I am. I emerge from that metal prison, I grant you three, and then I am suffering inside while you go on with your life, while you humans take what I have given and toss aside this ornament that is of no use to any, not even for light.”
The boy sat back on his heels and fixed his eyes on the red face. At last, he said, “Three? Any three?”
The demon nodded.
“I want a wife, please, Wait, though, I know how this works. I need to explain. I want a wife who the same age that I am, and alive, and well. She must be very beautiful, and she must be here. Please.”
The man nodded, and the woman appeared. She was very beautiful, so lovely that the boy was stricken. He gazed at the bright eyes and full lips and long limbs of his new wife, and he fell to his knees. “I love you,” he said. She spat in his face and walked out of the attic room without looking back.
The boy scrambled to his feet, knees jerking in his eagerness and despair, and followed her. For a week the red demon watched them as he tried to reason with her, tried to tell her how much he loved her, tried to make her understand that his heart beat for her. One morning, the boy came to the demon and said, “I need to use the second. I want my wife to love me. I want her to love me more than anything.” The red man nodded.
Barely had a moment passed when the boy heard footsteps pounding down the hall. The boy’s wife rushed in. She knelt in front of him and turned her lovely face to his. She said, “Oh, my husband, I love you,” and the sound of her voice was sweet and soft to his ears. He pulled her to her feet and kissed her. She drew him out of the room. The red man watched for a day as the boy lived in perfect happiness with his bride. The boy thought of nothing else until they woke the next morning. The boy walked into the kitchen and his wife followed him. He prepared breakfast, brought it to the table, and began to eat. His wife watched. When he offered her a morsel of food, she shook her head. He pushed a glass of water toward her, and gently she slid it back to him. The boy stopped eating and said, “My love, why will you not eat or drink? You must be hungry.”
She looked at him with something like surprise written on her face, and said, “My husband, I love you more than anything. I cannot love anything else more than I love you. I love you more than the wants of my body. I love you more than life itself.”
“I don’t understand,” her husband said. “You love me, and I am glad. You need to eat.”
She shook her head. Finally, he shrugged and finished his own food. They repeated this scene at midday and in the evening. They sat on a terrace before the lightless sky and he begged her to eat, but she only shook her head. “I cannot,” she told him, “for that would change things. I cannot.”
On the third day, the boy’s wife could not get out of bed. He lay next to her and put his arms around her, and her answering smile was week. On the fourth day, he tried to pour water into her mouth, but she choked and spat. On the fifth day, when he awoke, she wasn’t breathing.
The red demon smiled at the boy, whose eyes were swollen and sore with tears. His voice was ragged and he said, “I need to use my third. I know better than to wake the dead, so you won’t have me that way. I want to go back to before any of this. I want to go back to before I touched your lamp, before you appeared, before any of this happened. Please.”
The man nodded, and the world shifted. The boy was alone, with no horrors clouding his mind. He was trying to clean out the attic room at the top of the stairs, but it was so cluttered with the shiny forgotten pieces of somebody else’s life that he was struggling to find anything. He reached into the box in front of him, and his fingers brushed the smooth brass of an old lamp.