I met Satan in the ordinary way, by sinning.
But it wasn’t how I (or anyone else, I think) expected.
It was August, the middle of the summer holidays, and I knocked on the study door. “Dad! I know you’re not on the phone anymore!”
I huffed, trying to barge in. The door caught on the latch, opening just far enough for me to see him sitting in his green chair with his back to me. His headphones played jazz music loudly.
I rolled my eyes. “Dad!”
He whipped them off, spinning towards me in his chair. “Rhona! What are you doing? Get back to your project!”
“But I’m hungry,” I complained.
“It’s only eleven. I’ll make sandwiches in an hour,” he said, beginning to put his headphones back on.
“Please, Dad,” I begged. “I’m really hungry now.”
He raised one eyebrow. “Have you started your project?”
“Yes”, I lied.
“Then you can have an apple.”
“But Dad…” I whined.
It was too late. His headphones were on and he’d turned around.
I stomped back downstairs, muttering, “Stupid geography project,” under my breath. When I reached the living room, my eyes shifted between the pile of craft supplies and the BBC Bitesize homepage on the laptop that Dad had set up. It was a board presentation about the positive and negative effects of plastic on the climate. So madly boring. I slipped out my hidden Nintendo Switch from behind the tasseled sofa cushion.
My stomach groaned. It had been forever since breakfast, and Mum and Dad were both on the phone, nattering away in their business voices—Mum doing her polite “public” laugh and Dad deepening his tone to sound serious. I tiptoed to the kitchen in my socks and ignored the fruit bowl, placing the blue stool near the counter so that I could reach the cupboard easily. The chocolate box was tucked away on the top shelf for a reason: I wasn’t supposed to touch it. But I always did, especially in summer. it was always stocked for Dad’s clients, so my parents never noticed when one (or eleven) went missing.
I stepped onto the stool and outstretched my arm as far as I could manage to nudge the box closer.
The stool shifted suddenly and I tumbled onto the tiled floor. At first, I thought I’d been caught, for sure, but it wasn’t Mum or Dad standing cross-armed next to me. It was a man wearing beige shorts and a loose-fitting t-shirt, with a cap shading his eyes. I should have screamed but I stopped myself, realizing the cupboard was open, and my parents would know I’d been stealing.
“Who are you?” I asked quietly, my voice trembling.
He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you know?”
He was surrounded by a faint, fluid aura. Like a constantly flowing stream, it splashed and dripped droplets that didn’t seem to stain the kitchen tiles. He couldn’t be real. At least, not real as in human. Who did I know who wasn’t human?
He grinned at me with open arms. I closed the cupboard and put the stool back. I scurried past him as if I could shake off his gaze by moving fast enough, but when I reached the living room, there he was, one finger pointing at the materials for my geography project.
It dawned on me gradually, as if I’d known all my life: Satan.
“No!” I whispered. “Go away.”
“You can’t make me go away like that,” he said.
“Leave me alone.”
He raised his eyes to the ceiling. “You must do it properly.”
“What?” I glanced at the staircase, terrified that Dad would hear and come to investigate. “Alright, how do I do it properly?”
He shrugged. “You’ll figure it out.” He walked to the sofa, picked up my Nintendo Switch and turned it on. The fact that Satan could play Mario Kart was news to me. I demanded he give it back, but he held it out of my reach and laughed.
“That’s not fair.” I crossed my arms and sat on the furthest end of the sofa until I became bored enough to pick up the laptop and start reading the articles for my geography project.
“Are you working, princess?” Dad’s voice from the top of the stairs made me jump.
My face began to heat as I glared at Satan. “You have to go,” I mouthed angrily. “Now!” I threw my finger in the direction of the door.
With every one of Dad’s heavy footsteps, my heart pressed harder against my chest.
“Princess?”He reached the floorboards and looked at me questioningly.
“I can explain.” I stood up, nearly knocking the laptop over.
“Careful.” He frowned. “You are doing your project, aren’t you?”
“The-the man…” I pointed at Satan, whose eyes were glued to the screen of my Nintendo Switch. “I don’t know where he came from. I didn’t do anything.” I shook my head violently.
Dad sealed his lips together. “That’s not funny, Rhona.”
“I didn’t do anything, I swear,” I lied breathlessly.
“If you don’t get that project done before our vacation ”
“What?” I interrupted. “But the man…”
He raised his hand to silence me. “If you don’t get it done, you can’t come on holiday with me and Mum. Do you understand?”
“But don’t you see him? The man.” I gestured to Satan.
“Stop it,” Dad snapped. “Do your project.”
He headed to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
I looked at Satan in disbelief. He avoided catching my eye.
I sat in the circle at Sunday School the next morning, staring exhaustedly at the multicolored clock mounted opposite. The previous day had been horrible with Satan following me around the house. My parents wouldn’t acknowledge him and I was too terrified of them finding out that I had sinned to tell them what had happened, even when he sat at the foot of my bed all night. His presence made me nauseous. I didn’t sleep one bit.
“Rhona?” prompted the Sunday School teacher, a young woman with a church-branded t-shirt.
“What?” I muttered, returning to reality, uncomfortably aware of the grinning Satan looming behind me.
“Would you like to share with the circle something you’ve done this week?”
“Tell her about your project,” Satan suggested cheerfully.
I bit the inside of my cheek. “Did you hear that?”
I surveyed the room. No one was looking at him. It was like what had happened with Dad all over again. I swallowed the bitter taste in my mouth. “Actually, I have a question.”
The teacher smiled, her eyes brightening. “Go ahead. Remember, this is a safe space.”
“If I meet Satan, how do I tell him to go away?”
“That’s a really good question, Rhona. Everyone”- she broke off, clicking her fingers to silence the room. “Everyone, listen up! Rhona just asked how we can tell Satan to go away. There’s a verse in the Bible, in the books of Matthew and Mark, where Jesus says ‘Get behind me, Satan.’ We can use this in the same way if we feel Satan’s presence-”
“No,” I interrupted, frowning. “Can’t you see him?”
“Uh…” She laughed nervously. “See who?”
The other children sniggered.
“Nevermind. The point is, Satan’s already behind me. How do I get rid of him?”
“Ah.” She kept smiling, a sign that she was about to patronize me. “Well, we can always invoke the name of the Lord. Have you tried saying ‘By the name of the Lord Jesus, go away?’ That’s always worked for me.”
“Hm.” I shot Satan a smug look.
As soon as Mum locked the front door, I barged past and bounded up the staircase.
“Don’t forget your chores!” Dad yelled after me.
Satan was fast at my heels as I sped down the hall and into my room, letting the door slam behind me. My room was a “tip,” as Dad called it. A mix of clothes, superhero figurines and Horrible Histories magazines were strewn across the floor. Satan neatened my purple duvet and took a seat, picking up my Nintendo Switch from where I’d tucked it away in a pile of blankets.
“By the name of the Lord Jesus,” I said, out of breath and pointing at him like Dad sometimes did when he was telling me off, “go away!”
But he didn’t disappear. The Nintendo Switch screen flashed with the logo as he turned it on. He selected Mario Kart and his favorite character, Toadette.
“You have to go away!” I insisted.
A sickening grin remained plastered to his face. He didn’t budge.
“Please go away. Please!”
“No,” he said simply. “You have to do it properly.”
I lunged forward to seize my Nintendo Switch from his hands, but he held it out of reach.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” I muttered.
“How about your chores?” he suggested.
I trudged downstairs to look at my weekly chore board, much to Dad’s delight and surprise.
For the next week, Satan settled into a comfortable routine. He started his mornings by saying “No!” when I asked him to go away. He got really good at Mario Kart, continuously beating my high scores. Every time I snuck into the kitchen to take a biscuit, he moved the stool and crossed his arms. At night, he sat at the foot of my bed answering one final “No!” when I asked him to go away for the millionth time.
Meanwhile, I did a thorough job of my stupid geography project, researching, writing, and gluing boring diagrams to a piece of cardboard. My legs and elbows turned blue with bruises from falling off the stool and my eyes were constantly bloodshot from disturbed sleep.
When, eventually, the next Sunday rolled around, I felt like a zombie. I knew zombies weren’t real but ghosts weren’t either and yet Satan was like one: invisible to everyone but me and haunting. I picked pieces of white fluff off the velcro carpet in the Sunday School room, scooting further and further away from a boy who kept pinching me.
The teacher asked again, “Rhona, would you like to share something you’ve done this week? Or do you have any more questions for me?”
“I tried what you said and it didn’t work,” I said, eyes fixed on the fluff I was rolling between my fingers. “Satan is still behind me.”
“Why do you think Satan is behind you?” she asked sympathetically.
I flicked the fluff away and laced my fingers. “Do you really want to know?”
“Tell me.” She scooted closer. “You know, this is a safe space.”
Taking a deep breath, I recounted the entire thing, even sheepishly confessing to stealing a biscuit from the cupboard (although I lied and said I only did it once).
“So he stopped you from stealing a biscuit?” the teacher clarified calmly.
“He didn’t tell you he was Satan?”
“And he plays with your toys so you’re forced to do homework and chores?”
“Is it possible, do you think, that it’s not Satan, but God?”
I stared at her for several seconds, then swung my head up and around to look into the face of the man looming over me. His smile was smaller and his eyes were round. He opened his arms like he had when we first met.
“God is following me?” I burst.
“Aw,” the teacher said with a little laugh. “Well, God is following all of us. Maybe you’re just lucky enough to see him!”
“How do I make it stop? I just want him to go away!”
She tightened her lips. “I suppose perhaps you’d better not steal again and do your homework and chores without getting distracted.”
I remained silent the whole drive home, despite my parents’ attempts to cheer me up. When we got there, I checked the chore board, lugged the clean laundry hamper upstairs, and tucked my folded clothes into their correct drawers. I put away the last skirt and God tapped me on the shoulder, offering me my Nintendo Switch. I glared at his stupid face and snatched it off him.
“I hate being good,” I snapped.
“We all have to do things we don’t like,” he said cheerfully.
My eye twitched with frustration. “Go away.”
He held his hands up in surrender. “You’re not ready.”
“Get behind me!” I insisted.
“Don’t say my name! By the name of the Lord… the Lord…” I trailed off, an idea forming in my mind. A smile tugged at my lips. “By the name of the Lord Satan, go away.”
God’s expression twisted from smugness, to confusion, to shock and then he gaped in horror. “Wha-” But he didn’t have a chance to speak because he instantly melted in a pool of red liquid.
There was a knock at my door and Dad’s head appeared. “Are you busy, princess?”
“No.” I tossed my Nintendo Switch onto the bed beside me.
“I just wanted you to know that I’m proud of you. I’ve seen how hard you’ve worked this week.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Can I ask a question?”
“Why are you only proud of me when I’m good?”
He lowered his gaze to my newly-clean floor. “I’m not. Did you know I was a bad kid?”
I scrunched my nose. “Really?”
“I used to lie all the time. And steal from my mum’s sweet jar.”
“No you didn’t!” I exclaimed.
He laughed. “Being good is difficult, but it’s the best thing. For everyone.”
I sighed. “I don’t like God all that much.”
Dad shrugged. “Liking God isn’t what makes you good.”
“Then what does?”
“Making good choices and staying away from Satan. Whenever you feel like you want to do something bad—because you will—try saying, ‘Get behind me, Satan.’ Okay?”
I nodded but thought, Never.
If the real Satan did find me, I wanted him where I could see him.
Deborah Rose is the managing editor for Hey! Young Writer. She is the author of YA, fantasy novels Dragon Pearls (2019) and Crown My Heart (2020). You can follow her on Instagram at @authordeborahrose or visit her website, deborahrosegreen.co.uk!