The Boy Who Kissed Satan
Usually, he has horns. Often a tail and a pitchfork, maybe a single cloven hoof, or perhaps a nice pair of hairy goat legs.
People picture the devil in different ways, and I will forever see a pale skinny man with thick curly black hair in tight black pants with a floor-length shimmering black cape made of lightweight costume silk with sinister pointy fringe cut into the bottom of it. Instead of a pitchfork, he carries a shillelagh, the heavy end of which naturally bears a strong resemblance to a snake’s head.
He came from one of my earliest memories of live theatre. And anyone who claims that a Bible-Belt mega church’s Easter pageant is anything shy of theatrical has clearly never been to a Bible-Belt mega church’s Easter pageant. Ours was such a major event, it ceased to be called an Easter pageant, and instead received its own title: Golgotha. It was the cultural event of the season in Mobile, Alabama. Or at least it was the cultural event of the season in the small world that could be comprehended by my six-year-old brain. I had been a Golgotha cast member previously, but there was no role appropriate for me this year I was back in the audience this time around. So was my father. Golgotha had been a family affair in the past, but only my mother was involved this year. She had, however, given us some insider information about this year. For the first time, Satan would be a character. And not only that, but Jesus was going to make him disappear!
After the big splashy opening number that involved large crowds of adult choir members in the most authentic Bible costumes east of the Mississippi, everyone exited the stage, and Jesus settled in to pray, communing with his father/self. Satan slithered out and moved from shadow to shadow as he made his way across the pillars of the temple. He moved to touch Jesus several times, but always stopped short. He couldn’t touch Jesus. Jesus was protected. Satan walked circles around him, tapping the shillelagh against his palm like all bad guys do when they carry a club. Satan slinked back to one of the pillars and pressed himself against it as he asked, “Is it true, that you are the Son of God?” His voice gave me chills. They had used some sort of microphone trickery to make it sound deep and booming and evil. I was mesmerized. I also thought it was a silly question for Satan to ask Jesus. They both knew the answer.
My sisters and I had been speculating about the potential ways that the disappearance might occur, but at 6, 7, and 9, our ideas were more creative than practical. I had the theory that maybe Mr. Neil (who played Jesus) just prayed and asked for a miracle every night, and God performed it on cue because Mr. Neil had done such a good job of playing Jesus every year that God probably really liked him. I was told it didn’t work that way. No one could explain why, though.
Throughout the production, Satan almost never left the stage. He was always lurking in the shadows, even if he wasn’t actively involved. I watched eagerly the whole time, fully prepared for Satan to go “poof” at any moment. I started getting worried when Satan stood by laughing as they flogged Jesus. He perched on a wall far enough away to be out of the splash zone created by the fake blood. I really got worried when he grinned from ear to ear as they lowered Jesus from the cross. It seemed like the opportunity had passed. I knew Jesus was coming back, I just thought he would’ve done the disappearing act before his crucifixion.
But Golgotha didn’t disappoint. As the choir sang, dressed as angels, fog came gushing from around the sides of the stone that blocked the tomb entrance, and white light started to shine out. Satan hadn’t wandered far. He ran over and attempted to wave it off, motioning for the audience to look elsewhere. As the light grew brighter, he put his back to the stone and held his cape out to the sides in an attempt to cover it. But when the stone rolled away, he had to turn and face the truth. When Jesus walked out, he grabbed Satan’s cape at the shoulders and shook it. The cape fluttered down to the lower level of the set and Satan had completely vanished. I yelled, “Whoa!” and my dad shushed me.
When I saw my mother, before she could get a word in, or a hug, I asked, “Now, how does Jesus make Satan disappear?”
She laughed and said, “I knew that would be the first thing.” She switched to a high pitched whiny voice that I guess was supposed to be me, “Now, how does Jesus make Satan disappear?” She laughed. “There’s a trap door and he just holds his arms real close to his sides and he falls down and lands on a baby bed mattress.”
I remember thinking that had to hurt. Those mattresses were thin. Especially the cheap church ones.
From that day forward, Shillelagh Satan haunted my dreams. I dreamed of kissing him. I knew I wasn’t supposed to want to kiss another boy. Jesus didn’t like that. I also dreamed of going to Hell, and Shillelagh Satan was always there, cape billowing, shillelagh in hand, deep booming laughter echoing throughout the giant cavern that was Hell. He laughed at the people who swam in the lake of fire as they wept, wailed, gnashed teeth, etc. My earliest naughty dreams were also about Shillelagh Satan.
I met him once, a few months after his triumphant run as Satan. My mom was friends with his mom. I was in awe. With Shillelagh Satan standing only a few feet away, my small, sheltered, six-year-old brain was on overload. I wanted to tell him he did a good job and I wanted to kiss him and I knew I shouldn’t because boys don’t kiss boys and because I was six and he was a grown man. And I wanted to ask him for acting tips because that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. I never saw myself having the appropriate hair and beard to play Jesus, but I could totally pull off Satan if they decided to put him in again in twenty years.
Instead, I hid behind my mother. I peered around her and stared at him while our mothers talked. It turns out they had died his hair for Golgotha. His skin was actually that pale though. He was actually a lanky ginger, or what I nowadays simply call, “my type.” I’m not sure if he noticed me or not until he was formally introduced to my mother. Then she grabbed at me and tried to pull me around her as she said, “And this is Benjamin. He’s being all shy all of a sudden.”
He extended a hand and said, “Nice to meet you, Benjamin. I’m David.”
I stared at his outstretched hand for a while and contemplated shaking it, but I knew this might be my only opportunity. I weighed my options as best I could and decided to go for it. He didn’t even have to know. I ran towards him and bypassed the hand to wrap both my arms around his legs. I was eye-level with his belt. Quickly, before anyone could notice, I kissed his hip. It was just a peck, but I still remember the rough texture of acid wash denim against my lips. I don’t think any of them saw it. No one said anything at least.
I don’t know if he was used to kids, or just a really nice guy, but he hugged me back. “Well you sure are a friendly one,” he said.
I looked up at him and mustered the courage to say, “You were a really really good Satan.”
I still dream of Shillelagh Satan. Sometimes sexy, sometimes Hellish, sometimes both. I wake in a cold sweat either way.
About the author:
Ben Marshall earned an MFA in fiction in 2012 and has written only nonfiction ever since. When not writing or reading, he can most often be found in the kitchen ignoring a recipe. This is his first publication.