This short story is part of DRØME's latest series on Expectations. We asked our readers to submit work that considers the expectations — set by themselves, institutions, or others — that have shaped their identity. Read our full call for submissions here and catch more from the series in the coming weeks!
On December 26th Satan would come. He had every year that Marcella could remember. They’d leave out the stockings their mother had made and, like Santa, He’d come and fill them with presents. Santa brought her and her brother bibles, rosaries, little plastic angels that glowed in the dark. Satan brought little bottles of whiskey, pornography, and candy. On December 27th the family would burn the presents from Satan to prove that He could not seduce their souls.
Marcella never told her family, especially grandmother, that she liked the presents from Satan better than her Christmas gifts. As they smoldered in their pyre she’d watch the glossy magazine photos of naked girls and giant cocks fester and burn. She imagined Satan the way grandmother described Him: hulking and spiked like a dinosaur, an awesome and intimidating presence. Riding his sleigh drawn by a seven-headed hound delivering the evil presents to try and sway children towards sin. Santa, she was told, lived in the North Pole, a cold and snowy wasteland. According to grandmother, Satan lived in Lapa, a warm and bustling neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro.
“When you were a girl, did you ever go there?” she once asked.
“Oh yes,” her grandmother said. “In Lapa good men turn evil. I have met Satan.”
Marcella had dreams that she was in Lapa searching for Satan. Meandering among the arches, music and gun shots blasting from all directions, she’d begin to smell dead fish. Her grandmother told her that Satan always smelled this way. Sniffing the humid air she’d look up to see Him. In fiery breaths He’d tell her that He’d been looking for her, as well.
When she was awake she’d see Him everywhere. In the summers she’d go swimming with her friends in Great River and fantasize about clawed hands snatching at her ankles from below the depths of murky water. The river always smelled like dead fish. Grandmother had said that Satan loved to drown the innocent that He could not corrupt.
“When you drown, your soul is trapped,” she’d say. “It cannot leave the water or pass on. If the devil drowns you, He is able to keep you from heaven, even though He can’t, Himself, have you. He wants all of us to suffer, even those He has not earned the right to torture. The only thing Satan desires more than the damned are the innocent.”
But in her fantasies, she’d be able to breath underwater. “I’ve been looking for you,” He’d say, showing His awful fangs. “You are to be my princess.”
The other kids in the neighborhood and at school thought she was crazy. Satan had never visited any of them. Her grandmother explained that most parents hide this from their children.
“They are cowards. I want all my babies to know what they’re up against.”
On the evening of the 26th Marcella sat with her family watching television. They sprawled on the large L-shaped couch in their pajamas and underwear. The sounds of the ten o’clock news filled the room.
“I think it’s time for bed,” grandmother said, faking a yawn.
Brother whimpered. “Will someone go with me outside so I can pee?”
In the way that Santa would come through the chimney, Satan would slither up through the toilet. Her brother was too scared to go into the bathroom. His face was pink from holding it in, and sat with hands firmly gripped around his penis. One of her cousins led him to the back yard.
It was getting late and Marcella was tired, but she had been planning for weeks. She had stashed all sorts of stay-awake-food in her room: chocolates, old coffee, melted açaí packets. She went into the bathroom and flicked on the quivering fluorescent light. The toilet was decorated in tinsel and rosaries. The family always left a once-bitten apple for Satan as well as a dog treat for his hound on the toilet’s tank. Staring longingly at the water, she whispered, “hail Satan.”
Not wanting to arouse suspicion she brushed her teeth and straightened her nighty. Santa had brought her the pajamas, and she hated them. Cheeky angels with tacky yellow halos twinkled down the gown. It seemed to Marcella that these angels were liars, they couldn’t possibly be that good and happy.
Grandmother began their tucking-in ritual.
“Be the body,” Grandmother said, stripping the covers from the bed. The air was crisp in the house. Marcella climbed on the bed and lay flat against the bottom sheet. Grandmother then took the top sheet — one corner in each hand — and whipped it up in the air, letting it parachute down and cover Marcella. Next a light wool blanket, and finally a comforter. Marcella felt so cozy that she began to kick her legs as if riding an invisible bicycle.
“Calm yourself,” Grandmother said. “You’ll mess it all up.”
“But, grandma, it’s too perfect,” she said.
“Shush,” grandmother said, sitting next to Marcella on the bed. She stuck her finger in her mouth sloshing it with spit. Withdrawing her finger she closed her eyes. “Dear Lord, bless this child on this most evil night. Do not let your fallen one capture her eternal soul. Let your light and wisdom cast Him and his earthly pleasures from our house.” She leaned down, kissed Marcella’s forehead, then used the saliva to draw a cross where her lips had touched. “Goodnight, angel.” She got up and turned off the light.
Under the covers was so warm. Marcella rubbed her feet together and felt them thaw. The smell of winter chilled her nostrils. She shut her eyes and waited, heart thumping, for her grandmother’s steps to retreat from the door. “Ten minutes,” she thought. “Ten minutes and the coast will be clear.” Her clock read 10:45. She figured that Satan would come at midnight. It was the witching hour, after all. But she couldn’t be totally sure. It seemed strange if He came right at midnight, as He had to visit every child in the world. Her grandmother’s family in Brazil, her grandfather’s in Ireland. Even children in countries nobody cared about, like Canada.
Trying not to think about the time, she shut her eyes and pretended to sleep in case her grandmother came back in to recite another prayer. At 10:55 she peeled back the top hem of her covers. They were heavy and she was careful not to disturb the form of the made bed. She hoped that Satan would take her with Him, but in case He didn’t she had to make sure grandmother wouldn’t be able to tell that she had left her bed in the night.
Goosebumps rose in her arms and legs as she once again met the cold air. Her late night goodies were hidden in the stable of her toy princess castle. She could barely make out the glittery pink parapets in the moonlight coming from her window. A dog barked somewhere outside and she wondered if it was the hound. The carpet creaked with every step Marcella made towards the castle. Sliding back the plastic lock she opened the stable doors and withdrew the old coffee from its depth. Holding her nose, like she did when grandmother made her take própolis, she brought it to her lips.
It was cold and grainy; she choked, letting the grounds sift down her throat. She treated herself with a chocolate next, already feeling wired from the coffee. The açaí was inedible; it had gone sour and held a texture more of mucus than of blended berries. She gagged, puking in her mouth a little, but when the bitter mixture of coffee and açaí came up she forced herself to re-swallow it.
It was 11:15 and she pulled out her bag. A purple backpack, filled with everything she thought she’d need in Lapa: a swim suit, sunblock, a few oranges, a fun hat, a kitchen knife, her baby book, some pepper spray she’d stolen from her cousin’s purse, and a vial of holy water in case Satan got weird.
She lay these items out over her still-made bed and took mental inventory. Thinking hard, she wondered if there was anything else. Money? Medicine? She figured Satan could get her almost anything she needed. She was sure Satan would love her, and agree to her deal. The window was steamed and held both the cool light from the moon and the yellow light from a street lamp. There was a faint dust of snow on the ground, little blades of grass sticking from its surface casting needle thin shadows. Hands reaching from shallow graves.
Marcella had one black dress. The one she’d worn to her mother’s funeral. It was simple and smelled of mildewed wool. The dress made her sad, but she took off her angels and put it on. Everyone knew Satan liked black. Using the sleeve she rubbed with fury at the salvia baptism on her forehead.
It was 11:45 and she repacked her bag. Army-crawling to the door, she saw that no light showed through its cracks. She inched up on her heels and turned the knob. The bathroom was in between her grandparents’ and cousin’s room, so she was sure it wouldn’t be a safe place to hide. Also, she didn’t want to scare Satan off too quickly. Maybe if He saw her hovering over the toilet He wouldn’t come out. So, back down on her stomach she went, crawling in silent inches towards the living room where their stockings hung. The lights were all out, she could hear all the house noises she only ever heard when she should have been asleep. A creak, a scream, a bark. The cold plastic flooring squeaked and burned her as she slid against its surface. The mice rustled in the walls.
When she got to the living room she had to strain hard to see. The stockings hung next to the television diagonal to the couch. She hid behind the couch and tried to control her breathing. Her heart was racing and she had to pee. She drew her knees to her chest and licked the tops of her kneecaps. Salty and calming.
A creaking door opened and she froze. Bold footsteps made their way towards the stockings and a light was flicked on. The rustling sound of paper and plastic being forced into nylon stockings.
He was here.
She had been practicing the speech in her head for days. She’d turn around, stand, and confront Him. Showing no fear. She’d ignore the scales and horns and stench. No shaking, no trembling. She’d rise and say, “My name is Marcella, and you have my mother. I love her. I want her to be happy. I’m a good girl. An innocent. But I will be your princess, and you can have me for forever and ever, if you let her go.”