“I’m sorry, ma’am. Exorcisms aren’t a service we provide.”
After nearly an hour on hold, Jennifer Smith dreaded that sentence more than anything else. In a way she somehow expected it, especially once she laid the whole story out to the woman at the other side of the line and got in return, “Um, give me a minute.” A minute that quickly turned into an eternity of Jennifer lying on her twin bed, staring up at the brick ceiling and regretting her life choices. But now there it was.
“Why not?” Jennifer asked, “You guys are a church, right? Isn’t that what you do?”
“Yes.” the woman replied. “The First Church of God prides itself on serving God’s word, but demonic possessions aren’t a part of our beliefs. We see them as more of a metaphor, you see.”
Jennifer’s insides suddenly felt hot. Without thinking, she sprang off the bed.
“A metaphor?” she felt her volume rising. “So you’re telling me that my apartment is being haunted by a metaphor?”
There was a pause.
“Ma’am,” the woman said, “If you actually believe your apartment is really haunted, then I suggest that you pray about it to the Lord and ask him to show you the right way.”
Jennifer bristled. “Oh, I would. But it’s just so hard when me and my roommates are kept up all night by a metaphor!”
“Do you know how long it’s been since I could eat without all my forks mysteriously vanishing? Or take a shower without the temperature dropping every five damn minutes? Oh, but that’s just a metaphor, right?”
“You know what?” Jennifer yelled, gesticulating wildly to no one in particular, “Come down here, bitch, and I’ll show you a metaphor!”
There are a lot of annoying things in this world. Jennifer could attest to that: She grew up with two very annoying younger brothers, so Jennifer’s childhood could basically be described as a series of annoying events.
Though at that moment, the sound of the dial tone on the other side of the line trumped them all. The rage building up in her chest exploded through her fists, and she threw her phone at the far wall with a loud crash!
Jennifer was so mad, she hadn’t noticed that her boyfriend, Clay, had come up the stairs. When she turned around, she saw him standing in the doorframe. He was frowning, but he tried to smile when Jennifer saw him.
“So how’d it go?” he asked, his arms crossed.
The image of the church lady flashed in Jennifer’s mind, cackling at her from the other side of the phone line. It’s only a metaphor, girl! She felt the urge to throw the phone at the wall again, but instead she buried her head in Clay’s shirt.
“They said demons don’t exist,” she sighed, “Apparently we’ve got a metaphor infestation. Can you believe it?”
She closed her eyes, feeling a month’s worth of demon-induced stress and frustration bubbling up in her chest. Clay wrapped his arms delicately around Jennifer’s torso, pulling her into a soft hug. Jennifer was grateful for the gesture. No matter what, Clay always seemed to be there for her whenever they reached a roadblock in their lives. And demons were no exception.
“What are we going to do?” she asked, more to herself than anything, “We can’t keep living like this.”
Clay nodded. “Maybe we can talk to Blake and Terry about moving somewhere else. We can talk to Wanda and cancel our agreement.”
“But we can hardly afford our apartment as it is,” Jennifer replied, “How can we afford to cancel our contract?”
When Jennifer looked into Clay’s eyes, he looked like he had something to say. She felt her gut tighten—she knew that look well.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Speaking of, I got an email from Wanda a few minutes ago,” he confessed, “She wants to stop by and check up on us soon.”
Jennifer felt her fists clench. “Really? She just visited last week!”
“Yeah, I know.” said Clay, “But maybe we can talk to her about canceling our lease. At the very least, we can ask her about getting this place exorcised.”
“What do you think she’ll say?” she replied, “Wanda will probably think we’re insane. She barely tolerates us now!”
The two of them grew silent for a minute. Finally, Clay decided to change to topic to one thing that can relieve any tension.
“Why don’t we eat dinner first and talk about it then?” Clay asked, “Since Dave doesn’t seem to like it when I try to cook, we’ll probably have to order take-out. Is Chinese okay?”
Dave was what they decided to call the demon. In the month since they’d moved into their apartment, the demon never even showed the courtesy of revealing his name to them, so they had to improvise. The name had been their roommate Blake’s idea—he thought to name the demon after David Bowie. “Who knows? Maybe his ghost is haunting us,” he’d offered with a shrug.
If only David Bowie’s ghost had crawled down from his palace in Musician’s Heaven to their apartment. At least then he could sing “Magic Dance” to them as he ruined their lives.
Jennifer realized suddenly how long she’d zoned out.
“Uh, yeah, Chinese sounds good,” she said. Clay grinned, and she tried to smile back at him, but it turned into more of a pained grimace.
“Listen, we’ll figure it out.” Clay said. His hands were pressing gently on Jennifer’s shoulders.
“I hope so.” A feeling in her gut twisted her expression into another frown. “It just sucks that no one will help! I mean, it’s not like we can somehow perform an exorcism by ourselves…”
…Right? In the back of her mind, something about this statement didn’t sit right. Ever since Jennifer first moved in with Clay after college, there were many things that she never thought she could do on her own—filing taxes, buying a car, folding a fitted sheet—and yet there always seemed to be a way through it. If the four of them could manage to rent an apartment on their own, how hard could exorcising a demon really be?
She decided to find out. After Clay had left to call “General Tasty’s Food Palace,” Jennifer snatched her laptop from her bed and began to type in the search browser.
How to perform an exorcism.
“You wanna do what?”
Clay, Terry, and Blake were all hunched over the dining room table when Jennifer came barreling down the stairs with papers in her hands, shouting: “I got it, guys!”
She’d tried to explain, but the words were dead on arrival. Each of her roommates gave her a look that ranged between “confused” and “freaking terrified.” A far cry from the standing ovation she was expecting, but Jennifer wasn’t ready to give up yet.
“Think about it, guys,” she replied, “If the churches aren’t going to help us, then I don’t see why we can’t do an exorcism ourselves. Who says we need a priest?”
“Uh, everybody says that!” said Terry as he shoveled orange chicken onto his plate, “Isn’t that how it works?”
Blake nodded. “Terry’s right. You sure we should be messing with stuff like that?”
When Jennifer’s eyes fell on Clay, her boyfriend suddenly took a deep interest in his wonton soup.
“I know it sounds like a bad idea..” As if on cue, she pulled some papers out of her stack and tossing them on the table. “But I found some stuff online that I think will help.”
The papers thudded against the table. Carefully, Terry leaned over and picked up the paper on the top like it was a piece of radioactive material. After a few seconds, he glanced back up at Jennifer, his expression equally radioactive.
“This seems too complicated,” he said, tossing the papers back on the table. The words in the title were written in bold at the top: How to Perform an Exorcism, an Amateur’s Guide. “Why don’t we just—I don’t know—go to the landlady and ask her about Dave?”
This time, it was Clay’s turn to speak.
“Me and Jennifer talked about it, and I really don’t think we need Wanda in on this. Remember the time she thought we were trying to kill her by serving glucose-free brownies during the New Year’s Eve party?”
It was true, Jennifer remembered that night well. The way her silver wig bobbed up and down as a torrent of Back in my day’s spilled from her lips, soaking deep into her mind. Some nights, Jennifer swore she could still hear that voice echoing in her ears: “You four better cut it out before I take these brownies and shove them up your—”
“Clay’s right.” she said, desperately pushing the memory to the back of her mind, where it belonged. “Listen, the church won’t help us, and Wanda certainly isn’t going to help us. If we want to get rid of Dave, we’re our best bet. What do you think?”
Jennifer paused again and let her words seep into her roommates. Their conversation had dragged on for so long that the sun had set out of the window, and the box of food looked stale sitting there on the table.
It was Terry who eventually broke the silence. After eating his orange chicken thoughtfully, he gave out a sigh.
“Alright, fine. We’ll do it your way, Jenny!” he shrugged defeatedly, “What do you want us to do?”
A wide grin spread across Jennifer’s lips. The grin of an architect at work. “Awesome! But can you pass the rice first?”
By the time their plastic forks were scrapping their plates for the last bits of rice, the four of them had formulated a plan. One of Jennifer’s articles (“Exorcisms: A New Age Guide”) laid out a general guide for how to perform a proper “non-denominational” exorcism. According to the article, they needed three things to perform the ritual: Sage, thirteen candles, and twelve ounces of holy water.
“Holy water?” Blake asked after he read the article, “I thought this wasn’t religious?”
Jennifer nodded. “I know, but look here—“She flipped open to another stack of papers and pointed at the second page—“It says that we can use lemon water as a substitute…”
“I guess so,” she said, “We’ll just have to try it and see.”
We’ll just have to try it and see seemed to be the attitude that pervaded the group during this whole thing. What did they have to lose? It wasn’t like Dave couldn’t get any worse… At least, that’s what Jennifer told herself as she was moving the furniture into the kitchen alongside Terry in order to make room for the candles. Blake and Clay, meanwhile, were at Kroger gathering supplies.
They needed to arrange the candles in a broad circle, and sprinkle the sage in the middle of the it (“According to many ancient cultures, sage is a natural deterrent to spirits,” the article said, conveniently not mentioning which cultures, “As such, can provide a barrier that can trap the supernatural in place”). After that, the four of them needed to say an incantation to draw Dave into the circle, they could then banish him from this world using the not-Holy Water.
By the time they were done, there was a nice space in the middle of their musty green shag carpet, perfect for trapping their resident freeloading demon. Jennifer took it all in from the kitchen door. Everything’s going so well, she thought. Maybe after this, they could finally clean the carpet in peace. Now all they needed was for Blake and Clay to come back with all the supplies, then all of their problems could finally—
A sudden impact shoved Jennifer forward, sending her crashing to her knees with a thud on the linoleum floor. Displaced air whooshed above her. Then, behind her, crash! When she turned around, Jennifer saw it and froze.
With a push of supernatural force, Dave had pulled the sink—pipes and all—off the counter and chucked it across the room. The metal appliance was now lodged in a newly-formed hole in the living room, water dousing everything in the kitchen: The appliances, the lemon water, the sacred Chinese leftovers, everything. As she saw the carnage, Jennifer felt a presence looming against her. And even though she couldn’t hear Dave, she felt him there at the wet remains of her kitchen, laughing…
In her mind, she saw at the hours the four of them spent in that kitchen. She saw the way Wanda would look at the damage later on that night. Surely, they’d get kicked out. Maybe Jennifer and Clay would have to move back in with her parents, and who knows if they’d ever be able to rent again? That meant she’d have to deal with her parents again, and worse. Her brothers. But here Dave was, just laughing about ruining everything. Jennifer clenched her fists, and after a few seconds, Terry came bustling into the kitchen behind her.
“Holy shit!” he said, “What happened?”
But Jennifer didn’t answer. The water was absolutely dousing her clothes, but that hardly registered. Above all the sensations around her, Jennifer felt one thing. The heat spread from her clenched hands through her body, eventually spilling out of her mouth.
Terry took an anxious step back.
“That’s it!” she wagged her finger at no one in particular. “I am sick and tired of this…thing running around and screwing everything up! If Dave thinks I’m just going to put up with this, then, oh, he’s in for a surprise!”
The front door opened then, and Clay stepped unknowingly out into the hallway, lugging Blake behind.
“Hey, guys! We got the—” Then he saw what unfolded in the kitchen. Terry stood awkwardly in front of Jennifer, almost like a wall barricading the two of them from the madness beyond. In the midst of it, Clay saw his girlfriend standing there, eyes wide, teeth bared in a smile. The lemons they had used for the Holy Water were now floating uselessly in the puddle.
“Clay!” she called to him, “Clay, honey! Guess what? We’re going to get rid of Dave. He won’t know what hit him by the time we’re done tonight, oh no!”
She walked over to Clay and grabbed the Walmart bag in his hands. Terry skittered nervously away from her as she walked, and Blake followed suit. Inside the bag, there were twelve Walmart-brand scented candles, but no sign of the sage. She looked again, shoving her hand into the cold plastic, until her fingers found a bottle of lotion. When she pulled it out, she saw the words on the label: Great-Value Sage and Lavender Body Lotion.
“We couldn’t find sage,” Clay confessed, “This was the best they had.”
Normally, Jennifer would’ve been upset at this. They just lost the lemon water, and now Walmart had failed them once again. But the life without Dave sat so-alluringly close that she didn’t care. Holding the lotion bottle in her hand, she walked over towards the empty space in the living room.
“Come on!” she exclaimed, raising the plastic bag up triumphantly, “Let’s do this before Wanda shows up.”
It didn’t take long for Jennifer to arrange the candles in the empty space they had made. Terry pulled back the crusty shag carpet while Jennifer made the circle ward in the middle of the living room. In the span of about seven minutes, they had prepared Dave a nice prison in the middle of their desolate living room. Blake and Clay had bought a series of different scented candles, so by the time Jennifer was ready the pour the sage lotion, their whole apartment smelled like a fruit and flowery nightmare.
Jennifer opened the bottle of lotion and poured it into the center of the circle while Clay lit the candles. The smell of lavender and sage was added to the cacophony of scents emanating from the circle. As she did this, Jennifer glanced over to Blake.
“Go!” she said.
On cue, Blake began to recite the incantation.
“Oh, spirit of the ancestral world! Hear me now and…”
He then erupted into laugher, and Jennifer glared at him.
“Sorry!” he said, chuckling, “This is all so silly. I—”
“C’mon, Blake!” Clay interrupted, “Before the candles burn out!”
He waved the statement away. “Okay. Fine.”
After taking another breath, he started the incantation over.
“Oh, spirit of the ancestral world!” Blake squinted at the sheet of paper in his hands as he recanted the lines. “Here me now and come forth into our, uh, confinement…”
Then, silence. They paused and listened. Seconds passed in stillness—and slowly, the four of them thought they could feel something. An electrical chill in the air, building, charging, until… Nothing. They hung there, waiting. And it was Blake who eventually broke the silence.
“Guys,” he said, peaking fearfully over his paper at Jennifer, “I don’t think it worked.”
Despite herself, Jennifer felt her pulse rise. In the back of her mind, she could imagine Dave right now laughing above them. Just like how he laughed at her earlier when he destroyed the sink. Just like the way her brothers laughed that time in junior year, when they bought a fake pregnancy test and nearly got her kicked out of the house. She remembered how she dealt with them the moment she found out and realized she already knew what to do.
“Dave, get your ass over here, now!” she yelled.
As the words left her lips, the air in the room seemed to change. This time, there was no mistaking it: A chill ran straight down Jennifer’s back, all the way through her arms. In front of her, the circle of candles seemed to grow dimmer, and the sounds of the rushing sink grew quiet. The candle flames stretched out towards the center, towards the sage, when, suddenly, Jennifer heard it: “Fuck off!”
The sounds had come from the center of their circle. As Jennifer watched, she could see the very air within it change and distort into a vague shape. Blake and Terry took a nervous step back. Then, just like that, it was done. But Jennifer wasn’t. She could still feel Dave’s attention on her.
“You’ve been living in our apartment for too long, Dave!” she yelled, “I’m not going to put up with it anymore!”
Suddenly, a huge rush of force swept the room as Dave rushed in her direction, nearly knocking everyone off their feet. But Dave was still trapped behind the ward. The demon seethed as he took in Jennifer before him.
“Yer apartment?!” Dave yelled, his voice thick and ragged, “This is my land!”
Another push, this time against the candles. But this time, nothing moved: the combination of the flames and the scents seem to hold Dave in place. The demon bristled as he realized his predicament.
“What ‘ave ye people done here?” he yelled, “Why, why I oughta…”
Before the demon could continue, Dave began spouting a string of curse words, unintelligible beneath his thick accent. Besides her, Jennifer saw Clay’s mouth drop in shock, as he walked awkwardly away from the demon.
“Why, ye son of a bastard piece of…”
As this unfolded, Terry slowly took out his phone and begin recording.
Had Dave not decided to be so annoying earlier, Jennifer also might’ve taken an interest in what she was seeing, too: A demon, live in the flesh, standing in front of her. But she was still mad, so none of that mattered right now.
“When I get outta here,” the demon shouted, “You know what I’m gonna do? I—”
“Enough!” Jennifer couldn’t take it anymore. There they were, with Dave in their trap, and they were wasting time. “Look, Dave. I know you think this is your house and all, but please, we can’t have you hanging around here screwing with our lives. This might have been your place once, but it’s ours now!”
Dave shouted, “Bloody hell, I settled in this spot long before yer people showed up here! Before ye were even a egg in her ma’s kit…”
Clay glanced out the window. “Uh, guys.”
“I lived here back when we were still allowed to stay on the earth, before that Lucifer fella got too big for his britches, dragging everybody in his war. Not me! I said, ‘I’m gunna just settle down on my own land and let everything pass.’ But then that bastard got cast out, and suddenly we all had to live in the lake of fire! Well, let me tell you something: a small plot of land is much nicer than eternal torment! So I just said, ‘no!’ and haven’t been bothered since…”
Dave took a deep breath to finish his tirade. “This i’n’t even yer house anyways! So why don’t’cha just—”
The lock on the front door clicked, and the voice the four of them dreaded more than anything in the world came barreling from the other side of the door.
Wanda. Jennifer finally noticed her landlady’s red muscle car looming on the street. Its headlights eyed Clay like a shark. The panic in her boyfriend’s face was palpable when he and Jennifer locked eyes. He mouthed: What do we do?
Fortunately, Wanda seemed to be struggling with inserting the key in the lock of their jacked-up old door, so that meant they had a few seconds at least to come up with a plan. Dave was still standing in the center of the room. How could she hide all this from—
A sudden shriek pierced the air behind her, making her turn around. In a flash, Terry had grabbed the remnants of one of the sliced lemons floating in the water. He dashed over and, in one swift motion, squeezed it directly at Dave. The lemon exploded in Dave’s face in a spray of juice, and the demon roared in surprise, letting out a loud “Ah, bugger all! That…” before growing fainter. Just as this happened, Jennifer saw the door finally swing open in front of her.
“Ya’ll better not have any of them gluten-free brownies waiting for me…”
She shot a quick glance at Terry, who only shrugged his shoulders as Wanda bounded through the door in her full glory. Wanda nearly pushed him out of the way as she entered the living room, and then she froze.
“Have ya’ll been redecorating?” she asked, “Who said you can redecorate?!”
Jennifer stammered, trying to think up a lie. “Oh, uh—”
Wanda waved her off. “Don’t answer. Can’t leave you kids alone without you putting up some kind of new-age Feng Shui candle bullshit. Why, back in my day, we had better things to do!”
She then gestured to the candles on the floor. “I mean, are ya’ll making pentagons or something? Kids these days, I swear…”
Terry stepped between them. “Look, Wanda, I’m sorry about the furniture. But we were just trying to freshen the air up a bit, you know?”
There was a distortion in between the candles. It was small, but it was enough for Jennifer to notice. She watched it and saw Dave reappearing in the center. Without thinking, she went over to her landlady and put on her best smile.
“Say,” Jennifer used her most convincing I’m totally not hiding a demon voice. “Why don’t we show you how we’ve kept the bedrooms clean. Terry, Blake?”
Terry blinked. “Uh, sure. Come on.”
“What are we going to show her?”
“Just come on!”
Terry led Blake into the other room with Wanda, whose silver wig nearly collided with the archway, and then they were alone—Jennifer, Clay, and Dave. When she approached the candle circle again, she saw that the demon was rubbing his eyes angrily.
“Why, ya bloody harlot!” he muttered, “Listen—”
“No, you listen!”
Jennifer blinked in surprise. To her right, Clay had stepped up directly to Dave and was pointing at him.
“Dave, I’ve about had enough of your crap. And I don’t like how much you’ve been bothering Jen. We’re just trying to live here, man. Why can’t you just let us?!”
Clay continued, “We just want to live here, Dave, same as you! We’re a bunch of poor kids. We need this more than you realize, please! Just stop, dammit!”
Jennifer nearly fell over. Had Clay ever cussed before? In the years they’d been dating, Jennifer had never seen Clay with such an edge in his voice. Dave seemed unimpressed, though, but before the demon could reply, there was a booming from the other room, and Jennifer knew that meant one thing.
“I don’t care about your vinyl collection!” Wanda yelled, barreling through the door into the living room, in full view of the demon, “I just came here to—”
Jennifer braced herself for what was coming. What was Wanda going to say? Surely, it wasn’t going to be good. How would anyone react to a demon? She could already hear the panic she was surely going to have…
“What are ya’ll doing?!”
Dave froze in place. If demons could look surprised, Jennifer was pretty sure Dave would fit the bill. His eyes grew wide when he turned around and saw Wanda standing in the archway, Terry and Blake trailing into the room behind her.
“Wanda?!” he said.
“Harold!” she exclaimed, skittering excitedly into the room. “Oh, Harold! It’s been too long.”
“Ten years, I think!” he said, “Oh goodness, how’s Patrick?”
Suddenly, Wanda blushed. Jennifer had never seen her do that before. It was an odd look: her crusty pock-marked skin looked like
“He’s doing well!” she beamed, “He sent me an email from his new college, said he likes it there. But I know he definitely misses his dad! I…”
Harold? Misses his dad? There were so many questions that Jennifer wanted to ask. But besides her, Blake asked probably the biggest one of all.
“Harold? So your name’s not Dave?!”
The sadness was just dripping off of Blake as he asked this. Jennifer had a flurry of questions she was about to ask too, but that was before she found Wanda glaring down. When it came to height, Jennifer wasn’t any slouch, but Wanda easily had another three inches over her: “What did ya’ll do to my Harold?!”
Jennifer clenched her fists.
“What did we do? Why don’t you ask him, Wanda?!”
Wanda’s eyes grew wide in alarm. Meanwhile, Clay, still shaking from his earlier display, seemed to find his voice. He stepped up next to Jennifer and added: “She’s right. Dave has literally made our life hell since we moved in!”
Then it was Blake’s turn. “Yeah. Like, he totally killed our sink. We didn’t do that, that was Dave—er, Harold.”
Wanda glanced over at Harold, and the demon looked sheepish.
“Is that true?”
“Wanda, honey, I—”
Just then, Jennifer stepped aside, unfolding her arms like a game show assistant, leaving the kitchen in full view of Wanda: the water spraying from the pipes had died down, but there was still a torrent of water soaking across the tiles. By now, the whole place had begun to smell very wet.
“It is true!” Jennifer continued. “And frankly, you have no one to blame for this but yourself, Wanda! Why sell us an apartment when you knew that we had a demon here?!”
“And you!” Jennifer pointed at Harold. “We have done nothing to you. But you seem to like screwing with our lives, Dave! And the fact that and you and Wanda know each other just makes it worse!”
For the first time since his arrival, Harold actually seemed to take Jennifer’s accusation seriously. His demon-eyes paced between Jennifer, Wanda, and the damage in the room. Then, Harold did something no one was expecting for an incubus from hell to do—he began to cry.
He turned to Wanda. “Look, honey, I’m sorry! It’s just, ya left and I din’no where! I missed ya and Patrick when ya went away, and I jus’ couln’t bear the thought’a other people livin’ here!”
Jennifer had never seen a demon cry before. But there one was. Harold closed his eyes and knelt in place in the middle of the candles that were beginning to die out by now. Slowly, Terry, Clay and Blake gathered by Jennifer and watched the scene unfold. Then, something else: Wanda began crying too.
“Oh, Harold, honey!” her voice was compassionate for once, a far cry from her usual tone. “I’m sorry! I didn’t want to leave you, but Patrick had college, and…”
Tears were flowing all around by now, equally by Harold and Wanda. Jennifer felt Clay’s familiar hand press against her shoulder, and to her right she saw Terry take his phone out again and continue recording. Blake looked to be stifling tears of his own. And suddenly, Jennifer felt a feeling inside her gut, a feeling she hadn’t thought she’d ever feel in situations like this: sympathy. She stepped up to the circle and picked up a candle, snuffing the flame. As she did, she felt an energy shift in the room, as the nightmarish scented prison fizzled out into nothing but wax.
Harold turned to Jennifer, surprised.
She took a deep breath. “I think the problem here is a lack of communication. So why don’t we sit down for a bit and talk all this out?”
Harold wiped his eyes. “I-uh, I guess that’s a good idea, ya.”
“But first,” Jennifer managed a smile. “Could you help us clean up?”