by Jessa Samson
I am not what most people would call a religious person. In fact, by age 12 I started questioning the merit of praying when it felt more like a chore than an act of devotion, something that I only did whenever I had half the mind to remember. By age 16 I stopped believing altogether. If faith is something that can be lost, then I never regained mine.
I am not what most people would call a religious person. I don’t believe in an all-powerful deity, nor do I believe in his all-sacrificing son. I don’t believe in the devil, nor do I fear the burning eternity of hell. I don’t believe that those who have passed are watching over us, nor that those who are unlucky enough are still among us. I do not live my life thinking that if I do enough good in this world, I’ll die and enter heaven.
I am not what most people would call a religious person, but I do know what you’re supposed to do every Holy Week. Actually, let’s rephrase that: I am not what you would call a religious person, but I know what you’re not supposed to do during Holy Week.
You’re not supposed to be working on school requirements, but here I am with seven more boxes left unchecked on my to-do list, all of which are due tonight at 11:59 PM. I’ve lost track of how many hours I’ve been up—most of the time I’m swimming through coffee-fuelled states of consciousness, with small periods of weary sleep interjected every now and then.
The time I spend with my eyes closed is not nearly enough, but I can’t afford to sleep more than 30 minutes at a time. Last week had been spent studying for an exam, and this week I’m supposed to finish all my requirements. My schedule is packed and if I forgot to account for time to eat and rest then basic hygiene is a lost cause, which is a good thing since another thing you’re not supposed to do during Holy Week, specifically after 3:00 PM on Good Friday, is to take a bath.
I glance at the clock hanging on my wall, its face covered with about a month’s worth of dust. Nearly everything is—covered in dust, I mean. I’ve caught myself staring at the tiny particles dancing in the sliver of light peeking through my equally dusty curtains.
Everything is covered in dust, and even though it makes me want to scratch at my skin until my nails come out with little bits of flesh and blood, I stay rooted to my place. I’ll clean up when Holy Week is over.
The clock tells me I don’t have enough time to finish everything before the deadline. It also tells me that there is more less or a minute left before the son of god dies once again, which is said to leave us vulnerable to evil spirits and everything else wishing to make good use of this unholy time of the year. Below the clock are the withered remains of last year’s palaspas. As if finally respecting my atheism, my parents have neglected to put a new one up to protect me from all the evil that surrounds me.
The open word file in front of me, with its blinking cursor, serves only to mock and ridicule my efforts. I’ve written 569 words for an essay that’s supposed to contain 5000 words detailing my thoughts on populism. If I were being honest, my thoughts on populism can be summarized into a very bad word starting with the letter b, but I digress.
At exactly 3:01 PM, I chance a look at the mirror sitting innocuously across from me. It is undeniably a beautiful mirror, something that I got for suspiciously cheap at an equally suspicious-looking garage sale. Even my untrained eyes can tell that it’s antique, its gilded frame now a muted gold. However, it’s not the mirror’s beauty that catches my attention, makes me drop the half-empty bottle of water I’m holding, and makes me swerve around in my chair so fast that I almost get whiplash.
What catches my undivided attention, what wakes me up and makes me open my eyes wider than four cups of black coffee was able to do, is the reflection on the mirror. I had seen myself, my hair lanky and greasy, the bags under my eyes more prominent than ever, and the door to my cabinet wide open. Now facing it, I see that in the darkness of my empty cabinet sits a thing, and even the atheist in me can tell that this is a thing of pure evil.
I am not what most people would call a religious person, but looking at The Thing makes my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, holding back what I know would be a blood-curdling scream for help. Its eyes, their depth fathomless, makes me develop a sudden urge to separate the entirety of my skin from their
attachment to my muscles, my muscles from their attachment to my bones. Its grotesque hand, the one that’s pointing directly at me, makes tears start pouring from eyes that I had thought were too tired to produce any moisture. The weight of The Thing’s presence sits, heavy and unrelenting, on my chest that’s working double, triple time just to deliver oxygen to my lungs.
It cocks its head, or what I assume to be its severely misshapen head, and opens the hole in its face to ask in a voice made out of jagged metal slowly dragging itself through gravel, a voice that will haunt my nightmares for all eternity, “Do you require assistance?”
I am not what most people would call a religious person, but I know that when The Thing asks you that question the answer should always be a resounding no. I know this, and my mouth starts forming the word despite the salt of my tears pooling on my tongue, but I avert my eyes for a mere second and catch the cursor blinking at me, mocking me.
I nod my head. Once, an unmistakable jerk of assent. If I had thought that The Thing looked terrifying before, I am proven sorely wrong when my answer appears to delight it, making its mouth-hole rip at the seams to form a smile taken straight out of the depths of hell.
“Are you willing to pay the price?”
My answer is obvious. On Easter Sunday, I hunch over my computer talking with people online. When my friends message me complaining that the extension of our deadlines still doesn’t give them enough time, asking me how I was able to finish all my requirements when it had been virtually impossible for everyone else, I answer simply and truthfully.
“I made a deal with the devil.”
It makes them laugh, and The Thing perched comfortably upon my shoulders laughs right along with them.