Casey Who Exorcises People by Eric Rasmussen

Casey performs exorcisms at the desk he rents in the corner, and that’s not even weirdest part about him. The bathroom in the middle of the shared workspace doesn’t lock, so he yells “occupado” whenever he’s in there and he hears us walk past. He surrounded his workspace with heavy velour drapes, mostly green, some burgundy, hung from the industrial girders overhead. Every time he enters or leaves it’s a full-on can’t-find-the-edge-of-the-curtain comedy routine. And he reminds us constantly that, even though he conducts exorcisms in there, he’s not an exorcist. He would need a license to be an exorcist.

Mostly, though, he’s gentle and sweet. He arranged a holiday potluck and gift exchange for the whole floor, and he remembers the names of our family members. Sometimes he stands a little close when he talks, and he’ll refer to our appearances more than he should, but here’s all you need to know about Casey: he eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, every day.

One morning, Casey shows up with a guy who looks exactly like him, except twenty-five years older, like a mugshot artificially aged by computers. We guess it’s his dad, and the old man stops at our desks to confirm it.

“Hey there,” says the guy. “I’m Casey’s father. Please allow me to apologize for my kook of a son.” He pauses so we can laugh. “What a weird-o, right? Just imagine trying to live with him.” In that moment we do, and it isn’t so bad, because Casey probably picks up after himself and keeps a lot of interesting books around the apartment. “I’m kidding,” says Casey’s dad. “But once again, here I am. Good old dad to the rescue.”

Casey comes up behind and says, “Is this senior citizen bothering you?” He smiles, but his eye also twitches, which tells us that Casey loves his father but is dying a slow death by a thousand tiny cuts from his old man. It explains a lot.

While Casey’s dad gets coffee from the kitchen alcove, we look him up. He used to be a licensed exorcist, until an incident twenty years earlier when he tried to extract the ghost of serial killer from some famous debutante. The procedure failed, and the girl went on to murder fifteen people, mostly library volunteers and crossing guards. Big deal, lots of press. Now, instead of being an exorcist, he exorcises people. Just like Casey.

“Dad’s here because I need help,” Casey announces to the office, the same way he does when he asks us to quiet down for his sessions or informs us the kitchen is out of paper towels: hands on his hips, eyes pointed at the ceiling, speaking to no one in particular. “Tough case,” he says. “Not sure what to do.”

The “tough case” arrives ten minutes later. A woman, barely five feet tall, with dark hair and skin. Old, but not that old. Big handbag, tan shoes. She shuffles across the floor with her head down. We don’t actually look at her; Casey says it’s weird enough for his clients to get exorcised in a co-op office space without random writers and programmers and graphic designers staring at them. As always, we remain as pieces of furniture, working on our computers.

Casey and his dad gesture the woman back towards the curtains in the corner, then both men bumble around to find an opening (hilarious). They enter, the drapes waft shut, and we hear the murmur of the exorcism. The fabric absorbs their actual words, but only for a little while. Casey and Casey’s dad raise their voices as they try to out-exorcise each other.

“The spirt of the almighty lord compels you to leave this woman.”

“Actually, the unknowable power of the father, son, and holy ghost command that you vacate this mortal host.”

We stay focused on our screens, even though it’s hard.

“Leave this earth forever, evil spirit.”

“Or, plunge forever into a bottomless pit of suffering as punishment for the sins you’ve brought to this earthly plane.”

That’s when things really start to get weird.

The curtains billow, and rays of light escape between the gaps. A low, rumbling voice speaks in some language we don’t understand. Our translation apps don’t recognize it either. Then thuds, thumps, and the sound of furniture dragging across the floor. We start an office email thread: “That’s some exorcism.” “It’s not an exorcism, remember—neither of them has a license.” “Should we be doing something?”

“The love of god will smite you forever.”

And more importantly, your ancient evil will never sully mankind again.”

Ten minutes later the session ends, and the woman exits the curtains. She looks beat up but happy, like she survived an intense massage. A few minutes after that, Casey’s dad departs as well.

“A demon of the old world,” he says. “Those are tough ones. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take up residence in your microwave.” We look toward the kitchen alcove. ”Just teasing.” He laughs. “They don’t actually do that.”

After his father leaves, Casey comes out with his head in his hands.

“How’d it go?” we ask.

He tells the whole story as if we hadn’t heard it ourselves. When he’s done, he tries to smile, but he fails. “And I’m sorry about my dad. He can be awkward sometimes.”

Poor Casey. We try to help. “It sounded like you could have handled it on your own. You probably didn’t even need him.”

“Probably.”

Casey’s such a good guy. Does anyone ever tell him that? “You’ve clearly got what it takes to be an exorcist,” we say. “You should get your license.”

“Maybe.” Casey shrugs. “Alright. Back to it.” He fumbles with the curtains again. The microwave makes a strange groaning noise. We wonder if it’s time to start working from home.

 

Eric Rasmussen serves as fiction editor for Sundog Lit, as well as editor for the regional literary journal Barstow & Grand. He has placed short fiction in Fugue, Gulf Stream, Pithead Chapel, and South Carolina Review, among others. Find him online at theotherericrasmussen.com

How to Wear White to a Wedding by May Hathaway

1.  Open the invitation on a Tuesday, two weeks after it’s landed in your cramped mailbox. You are curled on the couch, stretching your feet out of the tight ugly brown shoes you wear every day and sorting through the credit card statements you’ve been avoiding and Sears catalogs gathered on your coffee table when you see this envelope, large and cream-colored. The paper is so thick it feels like you’re rubbing powder off of it. Your sorority sister Sarah, the invitation says, is getting married. Would you like to attend?

2.  You don’t recognize the name of Sarah’s fiancé. Back in college, she had dated a guy on the crew team. You consider checking “declines regretfully” on the RSVP card; there are better ways to spend a weekend, like organizing your bookshelf by color or feeding pigeons in the park. Calculate the costs: you’ll need to buy a wedding gift, reserve a hotel room, and book a bus ticket; there’s no way you’ll be able to afford airfare, especially at this time of year. It’s okay, though. You’ll do anything for your sorority sisters. You promised them that much when you pledged.

3.  Email your boss to let him know that you’ll have to take off a day or two next month, hoping that the abundance of exclamation points will soothe his frustration. You’re not a particularly good employee, and you know that; you’re lucky he hasn’t replaced you. Still, sometimes when you sit down at your desk and plaster on your customer service smile, you feel a surge of rage. You did everything right—you applied to college, did okay in your classes, made friends. You told men in suits about yourself and described challenging life experiences in rooms with glossy oak furniture. You went on dates with your cousin’s friend and that guy from Tinder and your colleague’s dog-walker’s brother—even if the whole career thing didn’t work out, you could learn how to be a good wife. And still, look at where you are now: you are a receptionist for a dermatology practice and Sarah is a bride-to-be. Can you believe it? She probably hasn’t sent half as many emails in her lifetime.

4.  Sarah’s wedding registry is neat and colorful and expensive; she seems to have gained a taste for silverware. Somebody has already bought a panini press and a food processor. You duly scan the list of available items. You decide to purchase a tablecloth and placemats so that she’ll remember you at every meal. Maybe she and her husband will talk about you over plates of quinoa and invite you to dinner parties, where you’ll brush hands with business executives and women who wear Tiffany wristlets, real ones, and you’ll make casual conversation over cheese platters. You can only hope.

5.  The wedding is in the Adirondacks, which makes your stomach churn. You grew up in upstate New York; you know the lakes and mountains there better than the back of your hand. Sarah grew up in Alabama or Arkansas or Georgia, somewhere decidedly dry and full of non-hikers. And you don’t own the mountains, obviously, and you’re not going to gatekeep a whole territory, but Sarah? The Adirondacks? Really?

6.  You’re taking the Greyhound bus to the wedding when disaster strikes. You’ve left work early, much to the chagrin of your boss and the guy with severe adult acne who keeps trying to flirt with you while scheduling appointments, and you’re beginning to regret it; you get nauseous on buses easily. Your favorite purple minidress doesn’t really fit anymore—it’s loose around the waist and tight at the armpits—but you still went to the effort of getting it dry-cleaned. Everyone looks miserable here, yourself included. When the bus grinds to a halt, you stand up and feel the granola bar you ate for breakfast rising towards your throat. Outside, you spit a few times as people shuffle towards their luggage, trying to get the sour out of your mouth. By the time you’re done wiping your lips, only the driver is left. When you duck under the bus to grab your things, you see a single suitcase left—the duffle bag with your dress is gone. Shit.

7.  You hate the Adirondacks. You hate this venue. They have a small store, like you knew they would, and the dresses are all sold at exorbitant prices, like you knew they would be. The unexpected part is that almost all of their dresses are sold out; more than one guest, it seems, has been forgetful. The only dress they have left in your size is a lacy ivory sheath, and you swipe your credit card without hesitation. It occurs to you to let Sarah know about your new outfit, but you’re so tired after a long bus ride, and it’s definitely not a big deal; she’s probably at the rehearsal dinner right now. Besides, as much as it pains you to admit it, you hate Sarah.

8.  When you wake up in the morning and slip into the dress, you do not feel the expected guilt. You coat your eyelashes in mascara and rub blush onto your cheeks and wait for a pit to form in your stomach, but you’re surprisingly calm. You eat eggs from the hotel breakfast bar and observe how easily they break apart into little nubs. On the way to the venue, you think about all the times you could’ve gotten married, even if it was just to the guy who smiled at you in the parking lot once, and touch up your concealer.

9.  You are in the Adirondacks wearing white to a wedding. Everyone is staring at you. Everyone hates you. Everyone includes yourself, but more importantly, everyone includes Sarah, whose face is blotchy despite her heavy layers of makeup. She is screaming, you think. Specifically, she is screaming at you; the words are coming in chains of how could you wear that and how are you so stupid and you’re jealous of me, I’ve known since college and today is my day, mine. From her latest stream of vitriol, you have learned that her fiancé’s name is Mark. You wonder if he’s going to calm her down, but he stands there, useless, like most men. Sarah, you think, is having some sort of psychotic break. She is unwell. She needs help. It is not until Mark takes a step towards you instead of towards Sarah and places a hand on your arm, firm in an entirely uncaring way, that you realize that you are screaming too.

10.  In one of the most humiliating moments of your life to date, call your mom from your hotel bathroom. You called an Uber from the venue after Mark hauled you onto the grass, where you stumbled in your heels—it seemed like an appropriate time to splurge. When she picks up, you are crying too hard to get the words out. For a good minute, you are gasping for air while your mom asks you what’s wrong over and over again; each inhale feels like your chest is cracking open. Stop blubbering, she says, and you steady your lower lip long enough to tell her that you need money to book a ticket back home. She starts yelling, just like Sarah did, and snot leaks onto your white dress. I didn’t even do anything, you say quietly between sobs. I didn’t even do anything. After hanging up, you crawl onto starchy sheets of the hotel bed and think about how difficult it is to be loved. The deposit lands in your bank account three hours later.

 

May Hathaway is a writer from New York City. Her work is published or forthcoming in Hobart After DarkPANK, and Vagabond City Lit and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the National YoungArts Foundation. An alumna of the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, she will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

You’re Still You by Anna Vangala Jones

My earlobes were the first thing I touched after waking from the brief coma caused by the accident. I was glad I could rub them between my fingers, unharmed and unbloodied, so different from the rest of what remained of my face. It was comforting and cozy to pinch and pull on them like saltwater taffy when surrounded by the doctors discussing me and my case each morning during rounds. I could hear with my ears and also escape into the texture of them.

Reconstruction makes you as unrecognizable to yourself as anyone else. They wanted to prepare me for what that first look in the mirror would be like after the surgery. They didn’t believe I was excited. You should be proud, I told them, not afraid to reveal your intricate and elaborate work. I joked to the attending that I would be like Frankenstein’s monster when they were done.

“You’re still you, Jane,” one of the residents called out. I remember staring at her, that young and eager doctor in training, long after she’d finished interrupting. I wanted to catch the soft flesh of her earlobe in my teeth, feel the tickle of that light peach fuzz on each bud of my tongue.

My nurse then said that my parents and brother were waiting to see me and could they come in now? But I told her I was tired, so maybe later.

Now the surgery is over and I am awake, looking at a face in the mirror they say is mine.

After waiting for my sobs to fill the room, the doctors leave upon seeing my anticlimactic reaction. I say, thank you but I would just like to sleep.

My beautiful resident closes the door and stays inside. “You don’t have to pretend to be so strong.”

“I’m not pretending. I don’t mind. I wasn’t attached to the old face.” I sound sure and therefore I probably am.

She makes her way to my bedside. “Does it look very different?” She looks so sorry.

“Yes.” I don’t hesitate or dress the truth up prettier than it is.

“We do our best, but when the damage—” She talks in that sweet honey singsong I’ve enjoyed so much, even as it’s made her colleagues roll their eyes when she speaks with confident authority. I stop her though I like to listen to her. The music of her.

“You don’t need to do that. I know. I’m not upset with you.”

 “It’s my fault,” she says, but I sense the words before I hear them. “I’m new at getting to assist during the procedures. And my hand—I got so nervous, it shook, and I’m so sorry.”

She’s breathing too fast for language to keep up and I place my hand on hers, the one she indicated had been the guilty party during my surgery. I can feel it tremble now beneath mine. I reach for her arm, to pull her closer to me, until I feel the rigid tension in her small frame start to lessen and then she’s seated on my bed as I want.

“It’s the only way you baby doctors can learn,” I tell her with a smile I mean genuinely even if it looks false, like a stranger’s. “Besides, they wouldn’t have let you do anything too important.”

She laughs with tears in the notes. “You’re not the one supposed to be comforting me.”

“Maybe. But you’re upset and I’m not. So this way makes sense for now, right?”

“What are you, a saint?” She notices the fixation of my eyes on her earlobes and the mood in the room shifts. I know she’ll probably leave any minute now and I’ll let her. Then it’ll just be me and the mirror. Alone.

“Sad that being understanding and decent qualifies one for sainthood now,” I say, but I keep my tone light and playful as I release her hand and readjust my body against the pillows behind me. I’m not looking at her anymore and I think she knows she’d better go. She stands and I focus on the wrinkles and creases of her turquoise scrubs, so I can unmemorize her face.

“You’re very nice to make me feel better, but I am still sorry,” she says.

“You’re forgiven.”

She seems to be going and is almost gone. But then she turns around and leans back against the door and nods at me. Something in her expression reminds me of the warmth intermingled with pity I could read in the faces of all my loved ones the first time they saw me after it happened. It was maybe not as painful as it would be if they’d physically recoiled, but somehow it felt like they had anyway. I haven’t let any of them come back inside my room since before the surgery. I’m told they took turns showing up just in case for a while, only to be rejected outside my door. Each day, my nurses would remind me that they were there, in the waiting room, poised and ready for when I’d change my mind. Until I didn’t and the nurses stopped saying they were there. I can’t ask now even though I wonder and need to know. Because what if they’re not anymore? I hate my doctor for staying.

“Don’t look at me.”

She stares out the window instead. Then she waits until I start to cry. Once I do finally begin, it’s hard to stop. I rub and scratch at my left earlobe so fiercely and savagely that my nails nearly draw blood. I don’t know why I seek to destroy my own pacifier, but I want to claw my earlobes until they resemble the pulp of a blood orange, like I imagine my whole face did in the back of the ambulance that night. When she wrestles my hands away from my ears and hugs me, I almost ask—did any of them wait for me? Are they still here?

 

Anna Vangala Jones is the author of the forthcoming short story collection Turmeric & Sugar (Thirty West Publishing, May 2021). Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Catapult, Wigleaf, HAD, and AAWW’s The Margins, among others. Find her online at annavangalajones.com and on Twitter @anniejo_17.