Palo Alto Weekly 20th Annual Short Story
First Place Young Adult
by Ross Raffin
| About Ross Raffin
Ross Raffin doesn't remember exactly when he became interested in writing, but he does remember some of his early attempts. In third grade, he wrote a short story about a bat that is zipping about freely until a tiger captures it in his mouth. But when the tiger opens his mouth to brag about his catch, the bat escapes.
Nearly a decade later, Raffin is a 17-year-old senior at Gunn High School -- and he's still typing away. "The Exorcistein" was inspired by an old thought of his: "I've kind of had the idea floating around my head what it would be like if a Jew was involved in 'The Exorcist.' "
The result: "Exorcistein" turns its gruesome predecessor on its head by bringing a scolding Jewish mother to the bed of a possessed young girl.
Raffin, who is Jewish, said he has always enjoyed Mel Brooks movies and other parodies of Jewish culture. "I like writing about my culture and the various stereotypes," he said. The idea of a stereotypical Jewish mother at the scene of an exorcism, he said, was too good to pass up.
Raffin said his creative inspiration comes from constant reading and learning. He got the idea for one of his science fiction satires from a newspaper story about a hockey dad who killed another father after a dispute about the score. He centered the story on a simple question: "if you could censor violence, what would it do?"
He also describes himself as a "biology nerd" who loves reading about evolutionary theory. But some of these interests may be on hold, as Raffin is currently putting together his college applications.
"I've always enjoyed writing," he said. "I try to write whenever I can, whenever school isn't sapping creativity out of me with various essays and such."
Mr. Blair lifted his rattling teacup. Mrs. Blair, shivering in her cotton skirt and white sweater, relit the candle on the table.
"To be blunt," Mr. Blair said, "we think there may have been a mistake. We asked for an 'exorcist'."
Rabbi Exorcistein stroked his beard and reclined into the plastic-wrapped couch. Scratches marred his face and traces of spittle hung from a lock of black hair. A pencil stuck out of the side of his hat.
"Not to worry, we can deal with whatever spiritual problem your daughter, Melinda, is having. This was just a first try. It'll work next time."
The house shook and an inhuman roar filled every room. Mr. Blair's teacup exploded. Rabbi Exorcistein yelped and fell backwards off the couch. Mrs. Blair sighed and began picking china shrapnel out of the sofa.
"What exactly do you plan to do?" Mr. Blair asked, casually wrapping his bleeding hand with a roll of gauze he had removed from his pocket.
"I did what any good Jew does when in trouble."
The doorbell rang. The Rabbi crawled out from behind the couch and strode towards the door. Mrs. Blair stopped shrapnel hunting and stared, revealing the wrinkles and sandbags that had accumulated over the past few days.
The Rabbi paused in front of the door, took a deep breath, and flung it open.
Glaring, Mrs. Exorcistein readjusted her scarf with one hand and slapped the Rabbi with the other. "Three months," Mrs. Exorcistein scolded, "three months and not a single call. There I am wondering if my Herschel has caught some horrible disease, and all that time you were just ignoring me."
"Then, at 2 am, in the MORNING, you call asking for my help. Out of nowhere. 'Mother, the devil has returned on earth.' 'Mother, I need help stopping the apocalypse.' Ptah." She spat, sending a new shower of spittle onto the same lock of hair. He sighed.
"I don't mind standing out in the cold," she assured him.
Before he could respond, Mrs. Exorcistein pushed past him and entered the dark room where the Blairs sat, horrified.
The candlelight shone off Mrs. Exorcistein's piercing brown eyes. Grimacing, she stared at the carpet and wall, scanning for imperfection. She turned to Mrs. Blair, who found herself suddenly and inexplicably embarrassed.
"So," Mrs. Exorcistein asked, "where's this little girl?"
"Upstairs, first room to the left," Mr. Blair replied. His monotone indicated she was not the first to ask that question.
Mrs. Exorcistein stomped towards the stairs, flinging her scarf aside. The Rabbi shuffled after her.
She paused at the foot of the stairs and glared at the Christ and crucifix nailed to the wall bearing a sculpture of Jesus.
"Goyim." Mrs. Exorcistein mumbled.
Startled, the Rabbi glanced up. He checked to see if the Blair's were listening. They were. He shrugged apologetically as they stared with a mixture of horror and fascination.
Mrs. Exorcistein clomped up the creaking staircase, creating a chorus of squeaks and foreboding groans. "I know a great carpenter who can fix this!" she yelled to the Blairs.
At the top of the stairs, Mrs. Exorcistein stepped through the open wooden portal and into the daughter's room.
Torn pages of books and shredded mattresses lined the floor. An armchair lay on its side, shattered. An assortment of religious tools lay cluttered against the wall, as if abandoned in a hurry.
On a queen-sized bed in the middle of the room lay the satanic manifestation, grinning and glaring daggers. Its hands and legs were tied to different ends of the bed. It raised its head, staring at the Rabbi. "Back for more?" she asked. "I have another pen in my back pocket."
The Rabbi remembered the pencil sticking out of his hat, and quickly plucked it out.
"And just who do you think you are?" Mrs. Exorcistein asked, hands on her hips.
"I am the Morningstar, fallen one, tempter of the garden, Lucifer," it hissed.
Mrs. Exorcistein pulled up a chair and sat next to the possessed form of Melinda Blair.
"That's nice dear," she commented.
Melinda paused. "You heard what I said just now, right?" This time the hiss was a bit less confident.
"Yes. And you can be whatever you want if you put your mind to it," Mrs. Exorcistein replied.
Melinda face contorted. "Burn in the fires of hell," she yelled.
Mrs. Exorcistein shook her finger and pulled out a handkerchief. "Don't use that sort of language around me!" She warned. The Rabbi shuffled into the room and stood in a corner, watching his mother.
Melinda stuck out her tongue. "May your liver roast-"
Before Melinda could finish, Mrs. Exorcistein dabbed the handkerchief with a nearby flask, grabbed Melinda's tongue, and wiped it roughly. "Dirty words mean a dirty mouth," she said as she calmly scrubbed the devil's tongue. Melinda screamed in pain, twisting and howling.
Satisfied, Mrs. Exorcistein let go of her and sat back.
"Mother?" the Rabbi asked, "where did you get that water?"
Mrs. Exorcistein shrugged, "in a glass flask that was lying between the bible and the't'."
"That's a crucifix, mother."
She stared at the large wooden crucifix leaning against the wall. She shrugged.
Melinda, steam still pouring from her mouth, sat up and stared at Mrs.
Exorcistein. "Feeling better?" Mrs. Exorcistein asked.
Melinda told Mrs. Exorcistein where she could stick the handkerchief. Herschel blushed.
Instead of reaching for the holy water, Mrs. Exorcistein straightened up and stared back at Melinda. "May potatoes grow on your stomach!"
"Mother!" Herschel moaned.
"She started it," Mrs. Exorcistein replied.
Melinda explained what a donkey was doing to Herschel's ancestors.
"May you back into a pitchfork and grab a hot stove for support," Mrs. Exorcistein parried.
Melinda crossed her arms and sat back down, pouting.
"Mother, perhaps we should try using some of the tools the last exorcist left behind." Herschel suggested.
"Oh, so now YOU'RE in charge? I'm your mother, not your servant." She paused. "You find something!"
Herschel rummaged through the small pile and pulled out the crucifix. "Try this." He said, handing it over.
Mrs. Exorcistein stared at it. "Do you really think I should?"
"Yes, mother," Herschel answered.
"If you insist." Mrs. Exorcistein grasped the crucifix with both hands and hit Melinda on the head with it.
"No mother," Herschel yelled, rushing to pull the cross from her.
Steam rose from the skin on Melinda where the cross had touched. Writhing in pain on the bed, Melinda spoke an unknown language in a demonic tone.
"Mother, she's speaking in tongues." Herschel gasped.
"Nonsense," Mrs. Exorcistein said, "she's talking backwards. Your father and I did it all the time when we wanted you out of the house so we could-"
"Honey, it's a perfectly natural act, and don't pretend you didn't have those magazines under your bed when you were 13-"
"Mother! Not in front of Satan!"
Mrs. Exorcistein glared at her quivering son. "So now I have no right to speak when I want to? Your father-"
Suddenly, the armoire shuddered, and then flew across the room towards Mrs. Exorcistein. The rabbi quickly pushed her aside, and it flew past into the wall.
Mrs. Exorcistein stood up, brushing dust off her coat. "You could have pushed me lighter," she said.
She walked over to Melinda and began untying the restraints.
"Mother, what are you doing?"
"She made a mess, so she is going to get out of bed and clean it up." Mrs. Exorcistein said.
The bed levitated, lifting several feet off the ground. Mrs. Exorcistein put her hands on her hips. "You come right down this instant!" she scolded.
The bed lowered and, if it was possible for an inanimate object to look ashamed, the bed managed to do so.
Melinda looked around. "What? Why did it lower?" Her faced twisted into a grimace, and her pupils dilated. "Wench, I shall-"
"Don't you start." Mrs. Exorcistein said, picking up the crucifix.
Herschel, who was pushing the armoire upright, watched them.
"God damn you." Melinda yelled.
Mrs. Exorcistein slapped the devil. "Don't take the lord's name in vain."
Mrs. Exorcistein slapped Melinda again. "And no swearing either."
"Perhaps we should start the exorcism?" Herschel ventured.
Mrs. Exorcistein gave Herschel an inquiring look. "Last I checked, that usually happens newborn males."
"No, exorcism!" Herschel corrected, blushing harder. " Exorcism is where we cast the demon out of a child."
Mrs. Exorcistein crossed her arms over her chest. "And just how do we do that Mr. Expert?"
Herschel opened his mouth and paused. He bit his lip. "I'm not sure."
Melinda laughed vehemently, shaking the room. "This is what they send against me? A poor excuse for a priest and now an ignorant rabbi."
Mrs. Exorcistein whirled around. "What did you say about my Herschel?"
Melinda grinned. "I said your son is a worthless boy who will die alone knowing only his false scriptures, laughable traditions, and chaste existence."
Mrs. Exorcistein's eyes widened. She grabbed the cross and lunged towards Melinda, who yelped in surprise. She struggled to escape, but Mrs. Exorcistein trapped Melinda between her enormous hips. She yelled down at Melinda, accenting each word with a hit from the cross. "My...son...will...get...married!"
The cross left steaming imprints wherever it landed. With each blow, Melinda screamed louder. By the time Mrs. Exorcistein had finished explaining Herschel's future marital status, no satanic features were left on Melinda's face.
Melinda blinked, yawned, and looked around. The fiery look in Melinda's eyes had vanished, and a rosy complexion replaced her once sunken and shallow features.
Mrs. Exorcistein, breathing heavily, pushed herself off Melinda and lay on the side of the bed.
"Do you need anything else," she asked Herschel, gasping in the most dignified manner possible.
Herschel remained frozen.
"Won't answer your own mother? Fine." Mrs. Exorcistein said as she stood to leave.
Herschel, momentarily forgetting he was holding an armoire, was quickly reminded as it fell onto his foot.
Mrs. Exorcistein exited, followed by her limping son.
"Wait, who are you people?" Melinda yelled after them.
Hearing her voice, the Blairs bounded up the stairs, pushing past Mrs. Exorcistein and Herschel. Mr. Blair turned briefly at the top of the stairs and mouthed thanks. Mrs. Exorcistein and Herschel shrugged simultaneously. They watched Mr. Blair enter Melinda's room.
"Pity," Mrs. Exorcistein said as they climbed down the stairs, "I was just about to fix her a nice big cup of pea soup."