13DWF Day Ten: "Devil Inside" by John H. Howard

Our tenth story of The 13 Days of Weird Flash is John H. Howards's "Devil Inside from our "Fall & Halloween '23" release.

13DWF Day Ten: "Devil Inside" by John H. Howard
John H. Howard, author of "Devil Inside"

So, it looks like none of you took too much offense at my tardiness yesterday. I wasn’t visited by any Krampi or vengeful Santas, so I’m assuming that we’re good. (That said, a crew accompanying some lady named Mari Lwyd left a really strange recording on my Ring doorbell when I ran out for a late snack. Was that some of you?)

On this Tenth Day of Weird Flash, we have a lot to get done before our True Love gives us Ten Daemons Piping, so we’ll get to today’s author, John H. Howard (two Johns in a row!) and his story Devil Inside from our latest Fall & Halloween ’23 installment.

John lives in Dayton, Ohio with his wife and four cats. He also has two daughters who have been the inspiration for several of his stories. His first published story was a short fantasy story called Cry of the Banshee in 2008 and his stories have been featured in both the Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror and the Ladies and Gentlemen of Fantasy anthology series. Being published that first time fulfilled a childhood dream of being an author, spawned by an early love of reading. He always wanted to tell his own stories and put them out in the world. In addition to writing weird fiction, he enjoys video games, bike rides, and potatoes in pretty much every form, which his wife likes to tease him about.

Stick around for the Q&A afterwards.

Devil Inside

By John H. Howard

Elise stared at the creature in the bathroom mirror, mocking her with its shark-like smile. Rage boiled inside her. That just made its grin widen. The reflections of her fluorescent ceiling lights shone a blinding blue-white, brighter than the real ones. She could almost hear the electricity sizzling through them.

Last night was the last time, she swore to herself.

She was tired of waking up to find blood on her hands, clothes, and face, crimson smears on her floors. Tired of rising each morning not knowing what she had done the night before. Usually, Elise avoided news apps and social media because she didn’t want to find out. But this morning, she’d made the mistake of checking her feed.

Everyone was posting about the local family that had been killed. There was some speculation that it had been a murder-suicide, the father killing his two kids and his wife in their beds with a pitchfork before jamming the tool into his own throat. The general consensus, however, was simply murder.

Elise knew it was her fault.

She stared one last time at the thing in the mirror, the horned image replacing her own, its pebbled red-orange skin an affront to everything decent in the world. Its grin twisted into a rictus of anger as it sensed what she was about to do. It screamed, but the sound couldn’t penetrate the barrier separating them. It slammed its fists into the mirror and cracks spiderwebbed out from where it struck. Shards flew, leaving blank silver wounds in the image. Her side remained unblemished.

Steeling herself, Elise turned and dropped her robe, letting it pool around her feet. She climbed into the vintage clawfoot tub.

The burning began immediately.

It hadn't been easy to obtain so much holy water, and she felt bad about the priest. Someone would likely find him tomorrow in the cloister where she’d stuffed him, though.

As her skin reddened, blistered, and sloughed off, she sighed. No more "accidents." No more headlines about murdered families. No more rumors of serial killers, wild animals, or urban legends come to life. And, for Elise, no more wondering if she was going to end up on death row.

The demon had fulfilled its promises, although she had accepted its request to ride along in her skin more as a lark. It could make for a fun Halloween gag, she’d thought.

Freedom from overbearing parents.

She hadn’t meant for them to die, though.

The upstairs neighbor whose bass-heavy music pulsed through her ceiling every night.

She’d had to wait weeks until the smell was bad enough to report it without drawing suspicion.


They just hadn’t caught her yet.

She slid further into the reddening water among the floating skin and tissue, the demon inside her howling in agony. Good. She focused on that rather than her own pain.

As Elise slipped into oblivion, the irony of her situation wasn’t lost on her.

She didn’t even believe in any of this stuff.

Q&A with John H. Howard

WFQ: Why do you write weird fiction and when did you start?

JHH: I’ve always been drawn to fiction with an interesting and unexpected—but inevitable—twist at the end. It feels so satisfying to read a story that defies your expectations. I try to capture that feeling in my own work, especially my stories that appear in Weird Fiction Quarterly. I think much of my fiction has qualities of weird fiction, but the first story that I wrote that I would define as truly weird fiction was my short story “Effigy”, which appeared in the Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror 2015 anthology. But WFQ has given me an excuse to really lean into the weird aspect of my writing.

WFQ: Who are the literary inspirations for your contributions?

JHH: My main inspirations for my brand of weird fiction come from Twilight Zone and their psychological, scientific, and sometimes supernatural twists, and Alfred Hitchcock-type psychological and suspense stories. I look to the classics for my framework while trying to turn them into something modern and different.

WFQ: What do you like most about the 500-word format we use? What do you find most challenging with it?

JHH: I like the 500-word format because it’s challenging. It’s difficult to craft a story complete with setting, characterization, plot, backstory, and a satisfying ending in such a small space. But it’s a great exercise in being concise when you have to narrow the story down only to what’s essential to the story, especially for someone like me who is used to writing stories in the 8,000-12,000 word range or longer.

WFQ:  If you were made editor for an issue, which theme would you choose to guide a whole WFQ installment?

JHH: I’ve long had a fascination with the things that coexist with us that lie just out of sight, things that we can sense, but can’t touch or experience directly, particularly of the supranatural variety that may or may not exist in our world, like ghosts, demons, alternate dimensions, magic, and the like. For that reason, if I were editor for an issue, my chosen theme would be "Beyond the Veil".

WFQ: Where else can we read more of your work? Where can we find out more about you?

JHH: Look for me under John H. Howard on Amazon.com or visit my website at johnhhowardbooks.com.

My short horror story “Midnight Train from Tokyo” appears in the anthology A Walk in a City of Shadows: Tales of Urban Legendry, out earlier this year. My short magical realism story “The Bottle Tree” appears in the Fiction Foundry anthology In the Woods, which is available now!

Thanks again to John for sharing Devil Inside with us. Stick around as we coast through the home stretch of The 13 Days of Weird Flash – we still have a couple of surprises for you all!

In the meantime, if you find yourself experiencing lost time, check in on your local cleric to see how he's doing (and if see he has any more holy water).

Also, a reminder for our Southern California readers: Denise Dumars will be reading her story Čert for the upcoming Winter '24 edition at the Anaheim Central Library at 5pm on Thursday, December 7th:

She will be the featured reader, so don't miss it!

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