My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
Abby Rivers read in the paper online that the exorcist died in a freak car accident, highways are dieways after all. Seeing the exorcist makes Abby recall April 1988 and how the world belonged to her and Gretchen who were rising fast and high. They were best friends but then things came apart and the exorcist saved her life. The memories, once blurry, all come flooding back and she remembers in vivid detail the year her best friend was possessed by the devil.
In 1982, ET was released and it quickly became Abby’s favorite movie. It was also the year she turned ten and had her birthday party at the Redwing Rollerway. The whole class was invited, but only Gretchen Lang came because Margaret Middleton decided to have a horseback riding party the same day and everyone went to that instead. The terrible icing on the terrible birthday cake was that Gretchen gave Abby a children’s bible as her present. Abby flees the party room and hides in the bathroom. Gretchen follows, wiggles under the cubicle door and explains to Abby she really wanted to get her an ET toy, and doesn’t like horses so didn’t want to go to sucky Margaret’s plantation with the rest of the class, and Abby had asked her first. Eventually the girls head on to the rink floor and as they skate, Abby feeling on top of the world singing We Got the Beat, she slams into Tommy Cox and ends up in ER with a busted mouth.
At school on Monday, Margaret is giving Gretchen a hard time for missing her horse riding party, but Gretchen defends her choice of going to Abby’s party. When Abby walks in, face bruised and stitched, Margaret calls Abby a liar and says that Tommy Cox didn’t cause her busted face, but then, with glorious timing, Tommy Cox walks in, hands Abby an ice cold Coca-Cola for her swollen face, gives her a high five and a wink! Margaret Middleton stands there like an idiot, and Gretchen and Abby share a smile. Abby never opened the can of coke.
Gretchen reveals to Abby that she hasn’t seen ET because her parents are in the witness protection program and it’s too dangerous. This is rectified the following weekend and because of the Lang’s weird rules, Gretchen sleeps over at Abby’s. A few weeks into their friendship, Gretchen admits her parents aren’t in the witness protection program, they’re just really strict. To reciprocate the secret, Abby shows Gretchen her dad's porn VHS.
Six years pass and Abby and Gretchen’s friendship gets stronger and stronger. During that time, Abby’s family has to move to a run down part of town and so she starts sleeping over at Gretchen’s house. Madonna’s Like A Virgin becomes their soundtrack until Mrs. Lang comes home and catches them dressed up and beats the shit out of Gretchen. Abby goes to Jamaica with the Langs, they get bad cornrows and have their first fight. There are slow dances with boys and kissing with tongues, and their little group of two grows to four as Margaret Middleton and Glee Wanamaker, a girl they helped find her retainer from the school cafeteria’s garbage, join their group.
One night the four best friends are drifting on the creek drinking beer, smoking and relaxing to Bob Marley. Margaret asks if they want to freak the fuck out and pulls out a film canister with acid inside, and bored, they agree and head back to shore. On the porch they each take one of the little pieces of paper with the head of a blue unicorn printed on and pop it on their tongues. They wait hours for the trip to start, chilling and talking on the porch, but nothing happens. Four hours later at nearly midnight, still nothing has happened so Glee starts doing homework. Margaret says she has a ouija board and suggests they talk to Satan, but rejecting it as a silly game, they decide to go swimming instead.
Gretchen strips down to nothing and dives in staying under for so long the others start to worry. Abby, Margaret and Glee go searching for Gretchen but can’t find her. Abby does spot a small rundown building and a shadow inside but dismisses it thinking the acid must be kicking in, but then she hears a man calling her name. Noping out of there, Abby runs back to Margaret and Glee. Eventually they go searching again but not finding any sign of Gretchen by dawn, they decide they need to call the police. Before they do though, they find a naked and shivering Gretchen in the small building. Gretchen curses, she never curses, and is crying. She wants to go home.
Abby drives Gretchen home before heading to her own to get ready for work at TCBY which involves a full face of makeup to hide the stupid zits that caused scars. Near the end of her shift, Abby gets a panicked call from Gretchen saying she is in the bath, shaving her legs, and now everything is covered in blood. Abby talks Gretchen down and they promise to talk later that night, but they don’t. The next morning Abby goes to pick Gretchen up, but Mrs. Lang says she won’t be going to school but then Gretchen comes stomping out. Gretchen didn’t call Abby because she called her summer camp sweetheart Andy instead. He’s done acid before and she wanted his advice about flashbacks. She keeps feeling someone touching the back of her neck and can’t sleep because of it.
A few days later, Gretchen is still bleary-eyed and snappish. She’s still not sleeping and experiencing flashbacks. In un-Gretchen-like behavior, during the latest “for your safety” school lecture, Gretchen talks back to the teacher and is sent to the school office, so Abby, Margaret and Glee wait for her. Later she tells them Major, the school principal, ranted about faith and honor and wanted to know if Gretchen was on drugs. Margaret’s senior boyfriend Wallace, a total asshole, comes up to them and Gretchen starts arguing with him as he’s trying to be a tough guy poser. Suddenly Gretchen throws up thick white fluid with little black feathers in it and Abby could swear she saw the feathers squirming in the fluid.
Gretchen misses school for the rest of the week and Abby can’t reach her and Margaret and Glee are no help. Gretchen finally arrives the following Monday during 5th period but she doesn’t sit next to Abby and doesn’t want to talk to her either. Mrs. Lang took her to a doctor to make sure she is still a virgin because her parents say they can hear sex noises coming from her room during the night, but she’s sleeping! Gretchen begged her parents for help and instead they subjected her to that violation. Margaret is still pissed with Gretchen for embarrassing her in front of Wallace and kind-hearted Glee tries to encourage them to sit together. Gretchen mutters that she wishes Margaret was dead before turning to Abby and asking her to get her a phone before promising she’ll never hurt her.
At Gretchen’s later, Mr. Lang is dealing with a dead cat on the lawn and tries to get Abby to tell him what’s going on with Gretchen but Abby defends her friend saying nothing is going on. Gretchen stomps downstairs and pulls Abby into her room. Gretchen’s behavior and conversation is really odd, she starts crimping her hair, it looks awful, she is sick of her parents, sick of her hair, sick of her “friends.” Meanwhile Abby can smell a foul sour odor. Is that Gretchen’s dog Max’s fart or something else? When Abby leaves, at the same time as Mrs. Lang’s book group breaks up, Gretchen’s behavior gets worse. She starts singing loudly at the top of the stairs. Mrs. Lang screeches that Gretchen has ruined her hair and Mr. Lang slaps his daughter to make her stop singing before falling down the stairs, but Abby is sure she saw Gretchen push him. Suddenly dozens of different types of birds start flying into the windows, their dead bodies scattering over the lawn and the noise echoing around the house.
The next day Abby heads back over to Gretchen’s and she admits she’s been hearing voices that tell her things about people. At lunch Margaret and Glee refuse to sit with Gretchen. Abby notices Gretchen has started starting to stink and isn’t looking after herself. The smell is sour and horrible, her clothes are the same, she’s stopped wearing make-up, her lips are chapped, her breath smells and her tongue is covered in a white film. The next day Abby realizes Gretchen is drenching herself in perfume trying to mask her odor but it makes the smell worse. Biting the bullet, Abby asks her mom, who is a care worker, how she can help Abby but her concerns are dismissed. She says Gretchen’s parents should be the ones dealing with it, not Abby.
On Monday morning there are torn garbage bags with used maxi pads all over the Lang’s lawn and Max, the family dog, is snuffling through them. Gretchen is fighting with her dad, and it looks bad and Gretchen looks terrible. On the drive to school Abby confronts Gretchen who grabs the wheel of Abby’s car sending it careening across the lanes of traffic and then Abby thinks they’re going to go over the bridge, but luckily that last part doesn’t happen. Gretchen begs Abby not to be left alone and says that she desperately wants to sleep. Then she says she will tell Abby the truth.
Gretchen has been having her period for two weeks, she thinks she’s dying but her mom doesn’t believe her. Is it a disease? Gretchen says she caught it the night at Margaret’s and that she’s not a virgin anymore. Gretchen can’t tell Abby who it was that hurt her but says they watch her and hurt her every night and tear at her skin. Abby wants to call the police, but Gretchen says they can’t but she knows how to make it stop. Abby takes Gretchen back home and tucks her in bed. Inside the Lang’s house, she spots countless numbers of air fresheners that don’t mask the sour smell, but Gretchen’s room is the worst and it’s a mess. Abby decides she needs to call Gretchen’s parents and tell them everything. A couple of hours later they come home and insist they are getting Gretchen the “help” she needs. Abby tries to tell them Gretchen was raped but they dismiss her, get hung up on the fact that they did LSD and blame Abby for being a bad influence. Abby swears she will save Gretchen.
At school the following day, Abby goes to Major, but instead of helping, he makes some veiled comments about Abby being a scholarship student and the responsibility that brings. He tells Abby that Gretchen’s parents are dealing with her situation and that he’s already spoken to Mrs. Lang. Before throwing her out of the office, Major tells Abby he’s watching her. Later, investigating the bunk house where they found Gretchen for clues, Abby starts to think that Wallace was the rapist but then she’s interrupted by Riley Middleton, Margaret’s older brother who is a drug-dealing scumbag, who tries to freak her out. Rushing home, Abby calls Glee and tells her everything. Abby doesn’t realize Glee has put her on three-way calling and Margaret has heard everything. Shit.
Gretchen isn’t attending school, Margaret and Glee are no longer speaking to Abby, and Wallace is pissed and attacks Abby at school. A few days pass and during Spirit Week at the highly inappropriate slave market, Abby notices on a teacher’s clipboard that she is owned by Gretchen Lang. Gretchen is in school?! Turning around, Abby runs into Gretchen, who still looks and smells terrible. Gretchen takes Abby to the restrooms and orders Abby to take off her makeup and forces cold cream on her face before she can run off. After school, Abby confronts Gretchen and ends their friendship. Gretchen calls Abby that night and begs Abby to still be her friend, saying she doesn’t know what she’s done. Abby spends Friday night alone in her room, watching trash TV and looking at the pictures of their friendship.
By Monday morning, Abby is determined to get her friend back but when she spots Gretchen she notices the old beautiful, perfectly coiffed Gretchen is back, with a new haircut, and she’s with Margaret and Glee, but Abby is not invited to be a part of the group. For nearly a month, Gretchen was ignored for her behavior and now she’s the queen bee. One lunch Gretchen is drinking a thick white milkshake, a diet supplement that Margaret is desperate to have and Gretchen is happy to share. It takes a few days before Abby can speak to Gretchen, and Gretchen is pissed at Abby for leaving her. Abby tries to talk to Father Morgan who sees nothing wrong with Gretchen. With his help and her parents' support, Gretchen has healed. However using a bad analogy he plants the seed in Abby’s mind that Gretchen is possessed. Later at a school assembly, a power team called the Lemon Brothers make a huge dramatic faith and fitness production. During the show, one of the brothers, Christian, points at Gretchen and claims he sees a demon in her. After the assembly is over, Abby seeks out Christian and he claims he has the power of discernment and that he saw a great owl obscuring her friend's face.
Margaret has lost a lot of weight and is relishing it. The shakes are working great! During lunch breaks, Gretchen keeps handing Glee notes from Father Morgan supposedly about vestry. Later, during a particularly gruesome dissection class, Abby asks to use the bathroom, but what she actually does is steal Gretchen’s daybook from her locker and hide it in her car. That night, Abby reads the daybook which starts normally then descends to the type of scribbles a serial killer would be proud of. Meanwhile, Abby has started to develop red patches on her face and neck that start to become infected.
The next day Abby confronts Gretchen because they are still friends and she wants to help. Gretchen is all sweetness and light and is more concerned about Abby’s skin, but Abby doesn’t feel like she’s being sincere. In desperation to figure out what’s wrong with her friend, Abby finds Andy’s number in Gretchen’s daybook. Maybe he can help, but when she calls the number she hears Gretchen’s weak voice, drifting in and out and begging for help, telling Abby that she’s been replaced and that she wants to hurt Abby most of all. At the school blood drive on Monday, Margaret passes out and the Red Cross nurse says she’s too thin. Glee wasn’t with Margaret as she usually is because now she’s spending all her time in the vestry with Father Morgan.
There is a field trip planned to go see the gross anatomy lab at a local university. The students pile into the school bus and a school van, Abby traveling separately from Gretchen, Margaret and Glee. All that anyone can talk about on the bus is Satanism, thanks to Geraldo’s TV special. In the lab there are rows of tables with cadavers and body parts and in a cabinet are jars filled with organs and fetuses. Later it’s reported one of the fetuses was stolen.
On Friday, Abby finally gets in touch with Andy but he says he hasn’t spoken to Gretchen since summer camp. On Tuesday, Major calls Abby’s parents for a conference because he doesn’t think Abby has a future at the school. She is being implicated in several incidents, including theft and the selling and distribution of drugs and alcohol. Abby’s mother stands up for Abby and puts Major in his place, though she’s not at all pleased with Abby whether she did what she was accused of or not. Outside, as Abby watches her parents drive away, sheets of white paper blizzard over the lawn and a half naked girl stands on the roof throwing the papers. It’s Glee. The papers are love letters signed Bruce. There is only one Bruce on campus, Father Bruce Morgan. As Glee is about to step over the ledge, she’s pulled back, shrieking that she wants to die because she loves him. Father Morgan watches on.
Finally, Abby has to do something. She calls up and meets the exorcist at the mall food court. Brother Lemon talks openly and frankly about demons telling Abby there is no shame in asking for help, so Abby answers all his questions about Gretchen despite the guilt she feels. Brother Lemon hasn’t performed an exorcism himself, but he’s seen a few puke and rebukes, plus he’s young, strong and willing to help. They just need to find somewhere quiet to perform it. Brother Lemon suggests they drug Gretchen to get her to the place Abby knows would provide the solitude they need. Brother Lemon is really excited about this, he’s already got a van full of equipment.
Glee confesses to Abby that Father Morgan sent all those letters to her, declaring his love, but is now denying it. Glee also said “she” told her to talk to him, that “she” drugged her and she woke up at the school. Gretchen. It was Gretchen. The following day Glee and her family leave town. The only person Abby can think of who might help her now is Margaret who has been out of school for weeks so she goes to her house with ice cream to lift her spirits. Margaret looks withered, like a yellow bone burrowed in her sheets, and her stomach distended and hard. She says that someone poisoned her. At the smell of the ice cream Abby brought, Margaret starts to dry heave and inside her throat, Abby can see something sticky, gelatinous and alive hauling itself out of her stomach toward the ice cream. Margaret’s dog attacks and yanks what turns out to be a tapeworm from her throat. Twenty-three pounds of tapeworms were found in her guts. Her doctors had never bothered to look for them.
Looking through Gretchen’s day book, Abby finds all the evidence of Father Morgan’s signature being practiced, the verses given to Glee, pictures of tapeworms, and notes about getting Wallace drunk. She calls Father Morgan, trying to get him to help, but then she hears Gretchen’s quiet voice calling out to her, and suddenly her bedroom door opens and Gretchen is standing in front of her with a paper bag. Gretchen takes the phone and hangs it up and tells Abby to stop listening to that little ghost. Gretchen punches and kicks Abby to the floor before taking her day book and leaving. In a rage, Abby tears her bedroom to pieces. In the morning, Abby is woken by her mother’s screams. There are police in her living room with the brown bag Gretchen had the day before. Inside is the missing fetus. Abby is arrested but released into her parents’ custody.
Packing some essentials, Abby sneaks out and calls Brother Lemon. Together they drive to Gretchen’s house and Abby slips in quietly and drugs Gretchen’s Diet Coke. Unfortunately, Gretchen knows Abby’s in the house and catches her before she can escape, taking her upstairs to show her something. Gretchen has her dog Max tied up in her bathtub and is holding her father’s gun. Abby protests and Gretchen backhands her into the bedroom, so thankfully she doesn’t see Gretchen shoot Max. When Gretchen comes out of the bathroom, she declares that was thirsty work and drinks the full glass of drugged Diet Coke. It only takes a few moments for her to pass out.
Brother Lemon drives Abby and the drugged Gretchen to the Lang’s beach house. They put Gretchen in the guest bedroom and make preparations to defeat the demon, who they learn is called Andras. When Gretchen wakes up and Brother Lemon starts the exorcism, Gretchen tries to talk to Abby, but then she starts mocking Brother Lemon, throwing him off his game. When the exorcism doesn’t seem to be working, Brother Lemon declares it’s time for Defcon 3 gets out the big guns, salt, which he blasts and smashes into Gretchen’s face. Eventually, a demonic voice speaks through Gretchen. Hot damn!
Brother Lemon protein loads and gives Abby a pep talk before they start the next stage, holy water and vinegar. For hours Gretchen vomits, weeps and begs to get the demon out, Andras mocking them throughout. Brother Lemon wants to do a full body baptism in the bath, but Abby thinks it’s too much while Gretchen wants them to burn or cut the demon out of her. Brother Lemon is ready to pour boiling water on her and Abby tries to stop him, burning herself as she knocks the kettle out of his hands. Suddenly Brother Lemon stops because he can’t see Andras anymore. After praying, he declares he needs to speak to his father and leaves, though Gretchen is still begging for it to stop in the background. When he’s gone, Andras as Gretchen tells Abby it was so easy to get rid of him and starts to sing I Think We’re Alone Now.
Abby Rivers will go down in history as the “crazy pizza-faced girl” who stole dead babies for sex orgies, dealt drugs, killed beloved family pets, and abducted the beautiful and upstanding Gretchen Lang. At least that’s what Andras says, and it’s only just gotten started. Abby picks up Brother Lemon’s notes and begins the exorcism herself until she’s exhausted. Andras causes Abby’s water to turn to urine, bugs to fly from Gretchen’s throat and worms to ooze from her eyes, but they’re only illusions. Abby continues through Andras’ talking in tongues, elongating Gretchen’s body, and begging in Gretchen’s voice, through a tornado-like wind blasting the room and the demon crawling out of Gretchen’s mouth. Finally Abby quits, defeated, and everything stops except Andras picking the scabs in her face and inappropriately pawing at both Gretchen and Abby. But then the drums start and We Got the Beat rings through her head, renewing her. Abby calls on Tommy Cox and his holy Coca-Cola, Phil Collins and Madonna, E.T. the Extra-Terrible, Glee and Margaret. She calls on the things that made them best friends to rebuke and expel Andras. After a cacophony of activity, everything settles and Andras is gone.
Unfortunately, the Langs and police are outside the beach house and Abby is hauled out and thrown into a police car, but then Gretchen chases after her. While Abby is sitting in court listening to the judge declare her parents unfit and that her future is ruined, Brother Lemon comes in as a surprise witness and confesses to everything, saying that he coerced Abby into the whole thing but she was trying to stop him, an acolyte of Satan, at the beach house. Abby is freed and the Rivers move to New Jersey. The case eventually falls apart because Glee’s family can’t be located and the Langs just want to move on.
After a few months of never leaving the house, Abby hears a car horn blaring outside. Pulling herself from bed, she sees Gretchen in her mom’s car. Gretchen tried to contact her, but their parents have kept them apart and she got inpatient so she stole her mom's car and came to find Abby. Sitting together in a Blockbuster parking lot, Gretchen confesses that she watched her life happening in snatches and had no control. After Abby rescued her, she turned suicidal but instead of pulling the trigger with her dad’s gun, she wrote Abby a letter and something inside her changed. Abby keeps rescuing her and she realizes she must be worth being rescued, but she needs to know what happened at the beach house. Abby tells her everything, even as the police come and take them to the station. The Langs and Rivers agree that they can’t keep Abby and Gretchen apart and allow them to write and call each other.
The exorcist spent eight months in jail with only minor charges sticking. After ten years, Abby gets the chance to say thank you to Brother Lemon and he apologizes for how he acted at the exorcism. As the years pass and life happens, Abby and Gretchen’s letters and phone calls come less often, they turn into emails, and Facebook likes. They still share big moments and messy moments, they’re there for each when it matters most. One night, after Gretchen moves in with Abby for a little while, they share Tommy Cox’s holy Coca-Cola and toast to 1982. They remained best friends all the way down the line until they were finally parted by death in their 80s.