THE DEVIL’S WITHIN • by Oonah V Joslin

My arms were scratched raw.  I’d been at it for ages.  I’d been up on the tussocks of the bank trying to reach the berries at the very top and a wasp had stung me and it didn’t half hurt.  That was when I decided I’d got enough and went back along the lane to the house.

I proudly handed over the small container of fruits.  Plump and black they were, ripe and juicy.

“Well,” said Gran, “if I eke them out with an apple or two, we might just get enough for a tart.  There’s not enough for jam…”

You couldn’t impress Gran.

“Here, let’s see that sting.”  She cut an onion open and tied it onto the sore part with a pudding cloth.  “There, you’ll be right as rain,” she said.

Gran began to pick through the blackberries and toss the odd one or two to our spaniel Slurry, whose habit it was to lie on the rag-mat in front of the range, gratefully gobbling up anything that came his way.

“Why are you doing that if there isn’t enough?” I protested.

“The devil’s in them,” she said.  “It’s nearly October.  Look.”

She picked out a huge berry and showed it to me.  A little white wriggly thing was poking its way out.

“Maggots,” she said.  Slurry snaffled it, maggot and all.  “Flies lay their eggs in them and then maggots hatch.  I’ll steep them a while in a vinegar solution.”

“Do wasps lay eggs too?” I half expected to see maggots dripping out from the oniony cloth on my arm.

“Don’t worry, a sting isn’t like that,” she said, “but yes they do — some wasps lay inside a living host and then the young eat the host.”  Gran’s eyes went big and round and she came at my throat with blackberry stained fingers.

I squealed and giggled like anything.

A smell of sugar was in the air.  I could taste it on my lips as Gran layered up apples and blackberries into the pie dish.  I dipped my finger into the canister and licked.  “My friend Kathleen says they eat the host in church on Sundays, Gran.”

“Not that kind of host,” said Gran, moving the sugar to her other side.  “The one they eat’s not a body.  Well, it’s not really a body.  It’s a wafer — like a biscuit.”

I thought I’d like to go to a church where they ate biscuits. They didn’t do that in our church. It was even frowned on to eat sweets, though the sermon went on for hours.

 “Jimmy McAleish said worms eat you when you die, Gran.  They don’t really, do they?”

“That lad wants a taste of his own medicine, so he does.”

“So they don’t then?”

“Well, not worms.  Not like worms you see in the garden.”

“Is it maggots then?”

“No, it’s just your own worms…”

“But I don’t have worms, Gran, and Slurry gets wormed every year.”

“Worms just means bacteria and stuff.  In olden days anything that seemed evil used to get called a worm, dragons, snakes, eels — anything. That’s why they say, ‘the devil’s in the blackberries,’ too. It’s nothing to do with the devil. It just means they’ve gone bad.”


So, I got my own back on that Jimmy McAleish. I gave him one of my tomato sandwiches at lunchtime in school — the one I’d put worms in. You should’ve heard him squealing like a girl when he saw half a worm wriggling out of the bread. But I told him not to worry, “We’ve all got our own worms anyway, Jimmy. Surely a wheen more won’t hurt you.” 

The Headmaster telephoned Mammy. She didn’t know what’d got into me lately but Granny just winked at me. “It’ll ’ve been the devil,” she said.

Oonah V Joslin lives in Northumberland, England. Winner of Micro Horror Prizes 2007 and 2008. Most read in EDF, Jan 2008. Guest judge in the Shine Journal 2008 Poetry Competition. Bewildering Stories Quarterly 4 2007 and 1 and 2 in 2008. She has had work published in Bewildering Stories, Twisted Tongue, Static Movement, 13 Human Souls, Back Hand Stories and The Pygmygiant, Lit Bits, The Linnet’s Wings, The Ranfurly Review and Boston Literary Magazine. The list is growing every month which pleases her immensely! Oonah is also Managing Editor of Every Day Poets. You can link to work, follow up-dates and contact Oonah at or She thanks all of you who take the time to read and comment.

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