We were ushered out of the room.
Only the stranger stayed behind
and Beth, of course,
still writhing uncontrollably on the bed.
Strange how the Christmas stars and streamers
still adorned the walls.
And the tree glistened.
It was the Savior’s birthday
but not within earshot of Beth’s tortured cries.
My mother sat us at the kitchen table
to sip milk and listen to her
cigarette-stained voice cackle some
random Biblical passages.
Beth’s screams grew even louder.
A month before, Beth had said
she’d seen a cross-eyed crow in the woods.
And met a peddler in the lane
selling odd trinkets—half-animal, half-man.
And during a particularly virulent storm,
a gruesome face had flashed in her window.
Ever since then,
she’d been coughing up bile,
swearing like dad’s old drinking buddies,
and eating nothing but cockroaches and flies.
Whatever she was suffering from,
it sure wasn’t the measles.
We asked questions
but mother said it was none of our business.
Just a stage our big sister was going through.
She handed a crucifix to each of us
with the instruction to clutch it to our breasts.
An hour after we left Beth’s room,
we heard a giant whoosh.
then a burst of laughter
followed by a booming cry
and a sound like a rocket taking off.
The stranger stumbled out of the room,
collapsed on the floor before mom could reach him.
“It’s done,” he whispered.
Beth remembers none of this
and I still don’t know
how mom explained away
the dead guy in our parlor.
In a way, knowing what I know now,
I feel kind of proud
that the devil chose my sister
out of everyone in our little town
for a full-blown possession.
She was never that pretty or that smart
and she couldn’t cook or sew.
My mother used to say she had a good heart.
And an even better exorcist, thank God.
— John Grey
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Perceptions and the anthology, No Achilles with work upcoming in Big Muddy Review, Gargoyle, Coal City Review and Nebo.