I knew something about demons. Barb, my grandmother, saw them everywhere and she called on her family to be vigilant. Transpose the letters in the word “Santa”, she said at Christmastime, and you’d find “Satan.” We did not worship Santa, she reminded us, because we did not worship Satan. And we certainly wouldn’t leave cookies for him.
Barb also believed that aliens from outer space existed, but rather than extraterrestrials, she swore they were demons disguised to deceive good Christians. Alien abductions weren’t a trick of the mind, but a trick of the devil. Rather than abduct the unsuspecting into space to experiment on them, demons abducted you in order to deliver you to the devil, possess you, send you back as one of his minions, wreak havoc. When you watched certain television programs or movies, listened to certain music artists, Barb said you opened yourself to possession. You were on a highway to hell. When Satan got ahold of your soul, nothing could stop him. Better to know the dangers, be equipped.
It is hard not to see demons when people tell you to be on the lookout for them. For years afterward, I had to remind myself that demons were not orchestrating my misfortunes, weren’t hiding behind the corners of my life; more likely, I was behind my misfortunes, but depictions of demons still frightened me. Years later, Francesco Signorelli’s painting The Damned gave me the heebie-jeebies the first time I saw it. I swore I saw my face in the middle of that chaos of tortured bodies and my grandmother’s face in those of the demons.