Author’s note: I like this story! But I feel that it could actually use a rewrite, to give these characters some description. I normally hate editing, but… why not give it a shot?
The sun shone brightly down from above the trees, as a thin wisp of smoke rose up from below. Given the scent of charcoal, mingled with that of charring meat, any observer wouldn’t be amiss in guessing that they were catching a sniff of neighborhood barbecue.
The street was a cul-de-sac, a little half-circle of houses wrapping around the widened end of the street. Today, the men had dragged their grills out to the middle of the street, plopping a couple of orange traffic cones further up the street to dissuade any lost drivers from plowing into the little gathering. The grills were a motley assortment, from Jerry’s traditional round charcoal grill to Bill’s monstrosity of a modern grill, covered in knobs and adjustable flaps, its aluminum shining in the sun.
Gathered around the grills, the men chatted back and forth, occasionally opening up the grills to poke at the meat and produce sharp hisses of grease and juices flashing into steam. Meanwhile, the women gossiped in little circles as they sipped at freshly made margaritas, and the children ran around the groups, chasing each other and occasionally letting out high-pitched screams.
It was a great day for a barbecue, overall. The sun hadn’t yet reached its apex in the sky, but the day was already pleasantly warm, with just the slightest of breezes rustling the leaves on the trees.
The women gossiped, but the women always gossiped. Most of them stayed home during the week instead of heading out to offices, and they’d raised gossip to a high art form as they ducked in and out of each other’s houses.
For the men, on the other hand, ‘gossip’ had become a taboo term. If asked, each man would insist that he never gossiped – he merely updated the other men of the neighborhood on current events within his sphere of influence, his household, his kingdom. They considered the exchange of information now occurring as vital to defending their homes as the motley assortment of baseball bats and golf clubs that they guiltily kept hidden in the back of their closets.
As he lowered the cover of his round charcoal grill back over the hissing meat, Jerry shook his head back and forth in disbelief. “Man, you cannot be serious. On either count.”
“No, I swear it’s true!” Bill reached out and adjusted some knob on his huge, gleaming aluminum monstrosity of a grill. Most of the other men would wager – accurately – that even Bill didn’t know what that knob did, but that didn’t mean that the others weren’t envious of the hulking machine. Here in the suburbs, men gauged the measure of each other by the size of their grills.
Once the knob had been satisfactorily adjusted, Bill looked back up at the others. “Summoning ritual gone wrong, the whole nine yards. It’s really the only way for me to explain it. She’s nothing like how she used to be.”
Jerry waved his tongs dismissively. “No, man, demons don’t exist. It’s all hogwash.”
On the other side of the circle, Keith nodded, crossing his arms over his large belly. “Yeah, what Jerry said. No such thing.” He narrowed his eyes at Bill. “Did you ever think that maybe she just conked her head or something?”
“Come on, guys! You think I wouldn’t notice if she had a big bump on her head?” Bill flapped his arms, perhaps trying to express exasperation, but instead only succeeding in making himself unfortunately resemble a large waterfowl of some sort. “And no, it has to be possession. I mean, it all started with the book, anyway.”
Keith just grunted, but Jerry leaned in. “Yeah, what about that? How did this happen in the first place?”
“Well, her Aunt Agatha died a couple weeks ago.”
“Sorry to hear that, man.”
All three men paused, looking down at the ground as they each tried awkwardly to think of a way to comfort a casual acquaintance for the loss of a loved one. Although, in this case, the loved one was only linked by marriage. Were condolences necessary? The etiquette was hazy and unclear, so they elected to just pause for silence for a few seconds.
Finally, Bill broke the momentary hush. “Eh, no big loss,” he said, shrugging off the uncomfortable moment. “We didn’t know her well, and the woman was crazy. Always wore black, stayed locked away in her old Victorian house, one of those shut-ins. But we went up to pack up her stuff, and we found the book.”
“The book that possessed her,” Keith interrupted, still looking unconvinced.
Bill started to answer, but then paused, shook his head, and rephrased. “No, Keith, I don’t think the book possessed her. I mean, not directly.” He waved a hand, struggling for the right words. “But the book had the spell that summoned the demon that possessed her.”
Jerry held up his hands, his eyebrows jumping. “Wait, man. So who said the spell?”
“Jerry, I was just getting to that!” Bill retorted, turning back and forth between the other two men as if unsure who to confront first. “Let me get my story out!”
He sighed. “Anyway, since you asked, I think my daughter did it. Sarah gave the book to her, since she’s getting into that whole “goth” nonsense, and next thing we knew, there was a pentagram in blood on our kitchen floor.”
“Her blood?” Jerry burst out, his eyebrows climbing and knitting themselves together in alarm.
Bill quickly waved him back down. “Nah, I think she grabbed one of the venison steaks from the freezer and dragged it around.”
“Oh.” Jerry wanted his neighbor to continue telling his tale, but neighborhood formalities had to be upheld. “Hey, those were delicious, by the way. Thanks for sharing them.”
“My pleasure, we had more than we’d ever eat,” Bill replied, an accepted answer, before returning back to the story. “But anyway, so Sarah’s the first one into the kitchen when we hear all the chanting, and she just freezes. And I swear that I saw a cloud of smoke go shooting into her mouth.”
“Not a smoker, is she?” Keith asked.
“Huh. And you said it shot into her mouth? Not out of it?”
Bill nodded, and Keith shrugged. “Man, that’s crazy.”
For a moment, all of the men just stood around, flipping through their limited knowledge of demonic possession. A couple of them had tried bringing horror movies home, hoping that their wives would feel the need for closeness after getting a few jump scares, but after Rich accidentally left the DVD in the player and his kid put the thing on, well, the wives quickly put an end to that trend. The men vaguely remembered something about needing bells and candles and a Bible, but they couldn’t even claim any degree of expertise in the subject.
Eventually, Jerry broke the silence. “So what, do we need to exercise her or something?”
“Dude, I think you mean exorcise,” Keith corrected, making good use of his one piece of knowledge on the topic.
“Yeah, whatever,” Jerry waved him off. The man kept his attention focused on Bill. “But really. How do we get the demon out?”
Bill held up his hands in a forestalling gesture. “Well, wait a minute! See, at first I was thinking the same thing. But now, I’m actually kind of not minding Sarah being possessed.”
Bill smiled for a moment as the eyes of both of his conversational companions widened. As usual, Jerry managed to get his mouth open before Keith. “Wait, what? But there’s a demon in her, you’re saying!”
“Yeah… but the demon is trying really hard to pass itself off as a human!” Bill answered, grinning.
The blank looks on his companions showed that they didn’t understand. “What’s that mean?”
Before he answered, Bill did something else with his grill, opening a small window to peek at the chicken breasts inside, and then closing it with a nod. “Well, she’s doing the dishes, cleaning the house, buying groceries, taking care of all the chores – and trust me, she’s like an animal in the bedroom now!” he explained, a wide grin on his face.
Both of the other men nodded in customary, ritual jealousy. “Dude,” they both chorused, although a note of concern tinged their voices. This was a devil, after all. Maybe.
“Hey! It had been a while for us!” Bill defended, before anyone could attack him for possibly sleeping with a member of Hell. “Sometimes a guy is just happy to be getting some, even if the woman might have a tiny little demon in her!”
The other two reconsidered, weighing the two sides. Sleeping with a beast from Hell was bad, they knew, but on the other hand, they both knew the feeling of a cold bedroom far too well. “Well, maybe,” Keith eventually gave in.
Jerry was a bit more focused on the conversation. “So Bill, what are you going to do?”
Bill opened his mouth to answer, but then paused and shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll take her to church on Sunday, maybe. If she doesn’t start smoking in the service, well, maybe it’s for the best, you know?”
“S’pose so,” Keith agreed. His mind, however, clearly was still a couple sentences behind. “Crazy in the bedroom, you said?”
“Oh yeah,” Bill grinned, happy to be back on a topic where he could brag. “I’ve got scratches all up and down my back. And I think she’s even more eager than I am! Makes me feel like a teenager again! I’m thinking she might be one of those ‘suck-bus’ demons, or whatever.”
“Well, damn,” Keith said, unable to keep a note of jealousy out of his voice. He held his mouth shut for a second, but eventually the thought on his mind couldn’t be contained any longer. “Think your daughter could bring that book over to my place?”
Bill smiled, but pretended that he hadn’t heard this last question. Instead, he opened up his grill, picking up a pair of tongs and experimentally lifting the chicken. “Looks like the meat’s about done! Who wants to eat first?”
Talk in the middle of the cul-de-sac returned back to more normal topics, such as who had the worst lawn, what new rules the homeowner’s association might try and enforce next, and whether this would be a good year for the local high school football team. But secretly, not sharing their thoughts with the others, each man pondered Bill’s confession – and whether they could manage to get their hands on that cursed, Hellish book of his.