Cristina Stubbe

La Capilla


Cristina Stubbe is one of many Puerto Ricans currently living in Brooklyn, New York, and she is currently working on her library science masters degree. When she isn't complaining about writing her novel and doing homework, she is at home making use of her small apartment kitchen or dragging her roommate to the movies. Her previous work has appeared in Anathema Magazine, and she can be found on Twitter at @stubbe_2794, usually complaining about the MTA.

Sometimes in the dead of night when everyone is supposed to be sleeping, I can hear clipping on the stone streets of Viejo San Juan. It’s a softer sound, like rain on a tin roof, but then there’s a snort, and the jingle of spurs. A horse galloping down calle de Cristo in the dead of night, and sometimes if I sit up and lean against my window, and the moon is high and fat and round in the dark sky, I think I catch a glimpse of a silver mane disappearing behind the building.

In the morning, when I wake up and my mami is humming softly to the radio, cooking sausages and beans and soft, sweet mallorca, the streets look normal outside of my window. There’s no evidence of a high-speed horse chase. Just bright buildings, the color of cotton candy and skittles, and crooked cobblestone on the ground, a few early morning tourists squinting in the sunlight with fanny packs strapped to their waists.

See, we all try to leave this island, this little paradise we call our own. No hay nada aquí para los jóvenes, my mother would say, and the rest of my family would nod in agreement, looking at my sister and I thoughtfully. Nina has already left, the darling of the family, out on the mainland for a full ride scholarship in engineering.

And me? I work at a small shop selling Puerto Rican flags and little tacky things like that. I wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, come back, and dream of galloping down the streets of San Juan like something is chasing me, pushing me off of the island and away from everything I’ve ever known.




They say we’re going to die this week. There’s a storm coming in, as if there aren’t always storms coming in. Most of the mainland doesn’t understand hurricane season like we do. They have mainland money, with houses built to withstand. We have old buildings and a small island, with so little money coming in that every year we close more and more schools, and lose more and more jobs.

So, a storm is a storm. They all could kill us. But María has people clutching their rosaries, whispering to themselves. It has tourists leaving, the streets wide and empty for the first time in my life. At night, the galloping of the horse is louder than ever, echoing along the empty streets.

On the night before the storm, as I close up the shop for the last time in a while, the hair on the back of my arms stands on end. At the end of the street, near the crumbling edge of the wall, I can just make out the silhouette of something large, something pawing at the ground. My breath comes out in soft clouds of smoke, and I can hear the clipping sound, the gait of the horse at it comes closer. The clouds pass over the moon, and it shines bright and startling for a moment on a mane as silver as a clean, new dime, and then it’s gone.

Something in me feels strangely hollow.



Wind howls and the window bangs. I spare a thought, grateful that both my sister and father are off the island, lucky that he’d gone to help Nina move into her apartment new apartment. The floor beneath my sneakered feet is damp and Mami clutches my hand. The water will only get higher, soon tickling my ankles, soon over my calves. A gust of wind hits the window and I hear something shatter in the kitchen, but all we can do is hold each other and wait, wait until la madre tierra tells us she’s finished with us. A horse whinnies outside.



Has it been hours later? Days? The power is out and everything is dark. Mami naps on the couch, still above the water, and I watch her sleeping form. Dark bags make her face look hollowed out, skull-like. The water is up to my calves now and I know I’ll have to wake her soon. She shifts and I grip her hand, and there’s a groan, louder than thunder, something like wood sagging under pressure, and then a loud crack, harsh as a broken bone and water comes rushing in.

Mami!” I yell just as she wakes and I try to shove myself close to her to grab her; I can feel her hand in mine go slack as something slams into her, a piece of wood come loose from the window, and bile rises in the back of my throat, my heart nearly climbing out of my chest.

Fear makes my mouth dry, my body lock up, the thought rolling over in my mind, I could die here, over and over, and I make it out onto the street through the broken window, and there’s a horse out there in the waist deep water, silver mane tossing and eyes wild, snorting loudly. It paws the ground, sharp and clear despite the water sloshing along its sides, and the rain is hard, the stones slippery, but I have my mother’s hand in mine, her grip tight on me, and she’s half unconscious, exhausted from staying awake for so long, from whatever hit her in the stomach, but I keep her close and I have to follow the horse, have to make my way over to it as it prances impatiently, and for the first time I see a rider on it. It’s hard to see from the water in my eyes, the way my hair sticks to my skin, but he’s young, dark-eyed and his hair as dry as the horse’s skin, and he has a grip on the horse’s reigns that not even el Diablo could tear apart.

He doesn’t seem to see me, eyes on something just beyond me, and the horse rears and neighs, loud and freeing and I’m running and swimming, half dragging my mother and half holding her, desperate, desperate, please save me, please lead me to someplace safe, ayudame por favor, praying to any god that might hear me, and the horse moves through the water like it’s nothing, like it’s not even there, the wind doesn’t seem to touch it.

We’re on Calle Cristo, I can see the signs and the water there is shallower, my mother more awake, but something slams into the back of my legs and my vision flickers and the horse lets out a scream, a noise that curdles the blood that I taste in the mouth from biting through my tongue. Something grabs me, a hand, yanks me up and we’re moving and I can’t see and I cough up blood and my mother’s hand clutches mine weakly.

“You will be safe here,” a voice says, a boy, and he leaves us someplace dry, and the last thing I see before the darkness overtakes me is the dark-eyed gaze of the young rider, and the last thing I hear is the same chilling scream as the horse jumps.



We all have stories of those days when the world ended. When rain and sleet and flooding decimated the island, when we were plunged for weeks without clean water and power. Historic buildings crumbling, dead bodies bloated and floating in the debris. There are befores and afters--pre-Hurricane, and post.

La Capilla del Santo Cristo is said to have healing powers, since a young boy named Baltazar Montanez rode his horse off the edge of a cliff during the race of San Juan Bautista. They say the last thing he heard was the scream of his horse, and a man saying, “Dios, lo tiene que ayudar!” They say he miraculously lived while his horse did not, and the little church was built where they fell. Legend has it that if you’re feeling pain, or discomfort, all you need to do is sit in the La Capilla del Santo Cristo, and your pain will be lessened.

All I know is that I woke up the morning after the hurricane and my mother was breathing soft and safe beside me, that I was inside La Capilla. Around me, silver ornaments gleamed like the coat of a stallion’s mane.


The Acentos Review 2019