The Demon and Our Lady of Lust, short story inspired by an illustration of Felicien Rops

A tourist coach stopped for me and the coachman offered me kindly a free ride through Bruges-la-Morte.

"Do you see it?" he said, showing me a medieval map. "There are little of no differences between then and now. The city still is a labyrinth lying beyond the laws of time and space. An unsuspecting tourist like you, Sir, will constantly return on his point of departure. Blame it on the masons of the Middle Ages who have built this city in black magic spirals and rings."

"Why have they done that?" I asked.

He answered that Bruges had once been chosen to be a Holy City, because of the Holy Blood of Christ that was brought here by the Templars and the Count of Flanders. "So it must be in Bruges-la-Morte that Satan also unleashes the worst of his devils! And that's why the Powers of Darkness and Light will fight each other more fiercely here than anywhere else in the world!"

"You drive day and night on these cobblestone roads..." I sighed. "You really must have seen a lot of strange and terrible things..."

"I sure have, Sir! Under the Tree of Eden, for instance, I have seen the old paganism incarnation of Venus mating with her Priape. It's only much later that Our Lady of Lust became a Christian sin."

"You mean St John's Whore of Babylon?"

"Aye aye, Sir! And I saw many of these poor allegorical deities of paganism become new demons too, because in Bruges-la-Morte, you have to be satanical or mystical, Sir! You can't stay on the threshold of purity or lust, you have to choose between heaven and hell, between Memlinc and Rops. Isn't that wonderful? Purity is the Sense of the Divine, Sir... She has inspired and enhanced the talent of the Flemish Primitives, and it sure took some time before Our Lady of Lust has given birth to a number of artists who were ready to explore the unknown Antarctic regions of the soul! But at last, Mr. FĂ©licien Rops, as some upside-down Flemish Primitive, has done the opposite of what Memlinc did!"

"Can you take me to his house, then?"

"No problem, Sir!"

He stopped before a house in a terrible state, with cracked walls leaning over dangerously, looking as if it could collapse any time now.

"Follow me, Sir!" the coachman said.

We entered a courtyard. A Belgian blue-stone stairway was leading to a wide hall and reminded me of a monastery. At the end of the hall, there were wooden stairs delving down into the cellars and the crypts of the house and the underground corridors leading to the other side of the canal.

"Who dares to go down into this underworld?" the coachman murmured. "It is said that the Templars have hidden a treasure there, but no-one has dared to explore these subterranean areas. The few that have made an attempt have never returned. But that's hardly a surprise, because as I already said, the city still has the shape of a maze, something like the inner work of a watch."

He turned... and vanished, leaving me alone under a crescent moon with the horror in the hall. A woman was lying on an altar, naked, her legs spread apart. Some creature was bending over her, the arms as thin handles on each side of the body - a skeleton, nothing more, with on top a horse's head that had two holes for eyes in it, and the one gigantic red and sharp hook of its tongue was flashing down into the lower abdomen of the woman, whose nails were creeping the stone while she was crying in sheer horror and desperate pleasure.

Motionless and without mercy the Demon was camping in the body of his victim, crowned with the Horns of a Moon shining through heavy clouds and thinking - or so it seemed - of the faraway land it had left behind, ugly and grandiose. And now it was bathing in blood, possessing and possessed, a symbol of lust that acute had stranded in death, desperately wanting and making every of its wishes come true.

And then the woman turned her head to me, and it was the Lady of Lust.

And the Demon took of his mask, and I was looking at me.

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