The Devil Behind


The devil was behind Lyle. Right behind him. All the time.

Lyle was born in a hospital in Oregon in the late twentieth century. His mother and father and several doctors were in the delivery room as Lyle emerged. They could not see it, but the devil was there, too.

In gradeschool, Lyle excelled in mathematics and logic. He got very good grades. He made some good friends and had sleepover parties. They would play video games all night long. As Lyle played late into the night, staring at glowing pixels on the television, he felt a growing sense of unease.

In the fourth grade, Lyle developed a terrible crush on a girl in his class named Amanda. He made her a Valentine and included a package of candies that he had bought with the allowance money he earned for doing his chores, like keeping his room clean and walking the family dog, Senator. Lyle exchanged Valentines with all of his classmates, blushing as he paused in front of Amanda’s desk to hand her the special Valentine he had prepared for her. Amanda smiled, and Lyle finally broke a smile. Eventually they would marry and she would miscarry three times, and they would never have children that lived. As Lyle stood watching Amanda’s happy reaction, the devil also watched.

In the summer after the first year of junior high school in the last decade before the turn of the second millennium following the birth of Christ, Lyle drank three beers in the woods with his friends Dave and Ken. They passed a cigarette between them, and they talked about Ken’s recent escapade with a girl named Mindy. Ken had groped Mindy’s breasts beneath her bra as they had kissed. Lyle listened intently. It was just the four of them.

Lyle played the tenor saxophone in the jazz band, and he easily won first chair over several students who had been playing longer and practicing harder. Sometimes Lyle wondered how this could be, but most of the time he didn’t care at all.

Lyle sometimes felt a sensation in his left hand that he did not understand. Sometimes Lyle would not be able to sleep for three nights on end, and he would begin to hallucinate. His parents thought that it was a side effect of puberty. Lyle saw visions of people boarding up their windows, preparing for disaster. Lyle was a white male in the United States of America and as such had every advantage in the world.

In high school Lyle got his driver’s license early because his father had fallen ill and his mother needed Lyle’s help. His father had quickly developed irreversible lymphoma and died at the beginning of Lyle’s sophomore year in high school. Lyle inherited his father’s car, which his friends thought was “sweet.” Lyle’s mother began drinking a lot and didn’t seem like herself anymore. At the end of Lyle’s sophomore year of high school, he lost his virginity to a girl named Devin. Lyle never learned Devin’s middle name.

When Lyle was a senior in high school, he was voted, “Future President” in a mock election. The day after the mock election, one of the school buses drove off a bridge into a gulch. Twenty high schoolers died, including two close friends of Lyle named Dave and Ken. The bus driver, a woman named Karen who had recovered from pill addiction, also died. Lyle had teased Dave and Ken for taking the bus even though they were seniors and most seniors drove cars to school. The local television news interviewed Lyle for a sound bite, and as he spoke the devil was just out of frame.

At the state university that Lyle attended, he began dating Amanda, his old crush from gradeschool. Lyle was taking advanced calculus classes, with a minor in economics. He took a world history class and hated it and stopped going. Lyle ate at the cafeteria and piled mashed potatoes onto his plate.

Amanda was taking a lot of biology courses with plans to pursue medical school. Amanda became pregnant toward the end of their first year there. They decided to terminate the pregnancy, agreeing that it was not the right time to start a family. Had they known what was down the line, maybe they would have kept that first one. They both pretended to be sad about it, but really they were relieved.
Lyle proposed to Amanda on the day they both graduated from the university, and she accepted. They married, and Lyle’s mother seemed distant and insane at the ceremony. Amanda’s parents seemed fairly pleased, stoic as they were. The next year three members of the wedding band they hired would be convicted of raping the singer, who slit her own wrists before their trial began. At the wedding, a very old woman danced with a young boy, which a lot of the attendees found amusing. Lyle did not have a best man.

As Amanda was graduating from medical school, she miscarried for the first time. Lyle was working as an engineer at a facility that manufactured military weapons. Amanda seemed truly sad about the loss. Lyle acted sad when he was around her. But he was too distracted by his planning his campaign for the seat of mayor in the small city where they lived. Amanda’s pregnancy had been publicized, and the loss could get some sympathy votes, he thought. He was right.

Becoming the mayor of an already idyllic city with clean streets and well-supported local businesses was an easy job. Lyle hired a stylist to make sure that he looked like a young politician should look. Amanda became pregnant again, and things were looking up. Lyle was reelected. Amanda miscarried again. Lyle began collecting campaign buttons from old elections. He commissioned a display with his own campaign buttons among those of former Presidents. One time he diplomatically scolded the maid when she tilted the display.

Lyle did not make any new friends, and he spent a lot of time in his office at the city building. He began taking saxophone lessons again, from the daughter of one of his staff. After two months of weekly lessons, the young instructor, Rebecca, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The lessons continued for a few more months until Rebecca was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer. She was dead by Christmas, and Lyle stopped playing the saxophone. Amanda never found out that Lyle had been having anal sex with Rebecca during their “lessons.” For Christmas, Lyle had a baby’s room complete with an oak crib commissioned, because they were trying again to conceive. Their maid had disappeared, and they had to hire a new one.

Lyle’s campaign for state senate was successful, and they moved to Salem. Lyle sat on the toilet doing Sudoku while listening to Amanda sob in the other room. The third miscarriage had happened. Lyle’s cell phone rang, and an old neighbor called to let him know that his mother had died in a drunk driving accident that had killed a family of five. Lyle tried to get out of going to the service, but he couldn’t without risking the press. He recorded a public service announcement about drinking and driving in front of his parents’ gravestone. It aired in regional markets. Lyle’s left hand became paralyzed while he was stroking his new great dane, President.

Amanda left, and Lyle quickly married one of his staff, Jennifer. Jennifer had been a Miss Oregon. She worked with disabled teens. Sometimes Lyle went to watch.

Once, in the middle of his first U.S. Senate run, Lyle was sitting alone in a hotel room in Baltimore and felt a sudden euphoria. He equated it with heroin based upon movies he had seen. His left hand regained its feeling and operability. Outside his motel window, Lyle saw an airplane fall from the sky, crashing into another hotel. It turned out that this was the hotel where his now-former opponent had been staying. Lyle arranged for a call girl. Lyle had absurd sex with her and then drove her into the woods and made her dig a big hole.

Four months after Lyle was elected to the US Senate, Jennifer’s large family came over for Easter. Lyle had always hated Easter. He found it boring. He wore a sweater and it was itchy and he took it off. He walked across their carpeted living room, and his socks caused static. One of Jennifer’s nephews, Reggie, was a red-headed, freckle-faced kid who liked to try to challenge Lyle with brain teasers. At some point in the evening, Lyle refused to continue answering, and he stared wordlessly at Reggie for one minute.

While searching his own name on the internet, Lyle found an AP article mentioning that Amanda had been found drowned in a river in India. When a reporter called asking for a quote, Lyle asked, “What was she doing in India?”

Lyle began doing Sudoku puzzles incessantly. He could do them at lightning speed. After a while, his success stopped mattering.

His staff presented their plan for his Presidential run, and he agreed, and he was elected President. On the morning of his inauguration, Jennifer had to wipe away tears because she received a call from her sister that Reggie had been beaten to death in an alley by homeless men who had been released from a mental hospital that Lyle’s administration had closed. Lyle was disappointed that there were no mashed potatoes at the Inaugural Ball dinner.

Lyle ordered five illegal immigrants to be gassed to death as a message. When prompted by the press and political opponents, Lyle could not really explain what the message was. A few years later, he was reelected. He started bowling semi-regularly.

In his second term, Lyle thought a lot about the meaning of life. He asked his dog, President, about it. President was old and seemed to be going deaf. Lyle gave the dog away to a poor couple in Florida named Gracias whose son had been living with polio because the family was uneducated and had not known how to get vaccinated. For Halloween, Lyle dressed up like a urine-soaked Bill of Rights. Around Christmas, Lyle found out that President got fleas and leukemia and had to be put down. Lyle called in a favor to one of his cronies at the old weapons manufacturing facility where he had worked his last civilian job. On New Year’s Eve, there was a nuclear reactor meltdown near the town where the Gracias family lived, and seventy thousand people were killed. When the ball dropped at midnight, Lyle bent down to kiss Jennifer on the top of her head, because she was sobbing.

From time to time, Lyle would make prank phone calls to his late ex-wife Amanda’s mother, pretending to be one of her grandchildren.

Lyle kept having to execute contractors until one of them finally agreed to construct a full-scale statue of himself made only of stem cells. It smelled bad, and it had to be kept in a walk-in freezer. Sometimes Lyle would make member of his staff go into the freezer and lick its crotch. If they refused, Lyle would completely forgive them, saying he understood and he didn’t know what he was talking about. Some of them died from apparently self-inflicted stab wounds, and others died from apparently natural causes.

Jennifer committed suicide by hanging herself from a balcony, as Lyle had suggested she do. Their children were too young to understand, and Lyle left it to the White House staff to sort out. He bowled a 300 game that night.

Lookalikes were hired for press conferences, obviously.

One night Lyle looked through an old NASA telescope and he could see Heaven. He consulted the newly-appointed Chief of End Times to look into the logistics of launching something at it.

It didn’t pan out. Instead, Lyle convinced Congress to declare war on Asia. All of it. He did a video call from the toilet to announce it to the world. He thought it was funny. His left hand began to hurt, and for a second it seemed like there was someone right behind him, but he pressed the flashing red button anyway.

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