NPR Round 6 Entry — The Exorcist Tells a Joke

Stopwatch

Image by wwarby via Flickr

Round 6 of NPR’s Three Minute Fiction (3MF) has concluded and a victor crowned.  Nothing pour moi this time…again. The winner was Lauri Anderson’s “A Saint and A Criminal”– a worthy winner from my readings of the finalists’ entries.

Comedy films rarely win Academy Awards in any of the major categories.  I’ll go out on a limb and assert that fiction writing is viewed with a similar prejudice.  Ooh, I used the P word.  But, I do think that drama showcases talented performances better.  I have the same prejudice myself.

I’m not making excuses; I accept that my entry was not at the same level as the winner or the honorable mentions.  (My entry was the short that earned me a drive-by critique of “write something worthy, please”. Perhaps I should have listened?)  But what I and others noticed, and even NPR editorialized about, is that comedy has a tougher time usurping attention from literary type fiction.  I only remember reading one funny story in over four rounds of NPR’s 3MF.  That’s it and it wasn’t the winner.

I knew this going in and swore I wouldn’t write a humorous story.  Guess what I wrote and submitted?  Yep, a humorous story.  I couldn’t help it.  This is what I like to write.  So be it.  Again, no excuses, but a vow to keep trying and trying and trying with whatever story moves me, humorous or not.

Before I post my story,  I need to explain the rules of round six.  In a story that had to be 600 words or less, one character had to tell a joke and another had to cry.  So, in theory, comedic shorts should have had a 50/50 shot at it.  Sigh… Jumping down off my soapbox now, here is my story:

The Exorcist Tells a Joke

Clarissa’s mood has darkened considerably in the past eight hours.  A husband can tell, even one of less than a year like Mike.  She wears no makeup, and her hair has congealed into Rastafarian dreads from her sweat, her last shampoo a distant memory.  The faint odor of sulfur clings to her clammy skin.

“Honey, can I get you something to drink?” Mike tenses, ready to dodge both corporeal or non-corporeal attacks if launched.

“Maybe some water, with lots of ice…mostly ice.”

Her voice is weak and thin, almost defeated.  Perhaps the sweet spirit that was the woman he married has somehow quelled the unholy demon raging within.

He covers his head and presses his luck.  “Your mother is here and wants to see you.  Do you feel up to having a visitor?”  As soon as the words leave his mouth, he wishes he could snatch them back.

Clarissa bares her teeth, lips drawn tight in an inhuman snarl.  The beast has reasserted itself.  “Mike, why the #@!!! would you think I’d  #%*!#$??/??  I’ll #%?@? you so fast it’ll make your head spin!”

Head spins.  No, please not again.

“Alright honey, maybe later then.”  He looks at his watch.  The man they’ve been waiting for should be here soon.  The receptionist promised he was on his way, that he’d know what to do to relieve Clarissa’s suffering, to free her from the torment within.

A knock on the door and their savior enters.  He nods at Mike, narrows his eyes and wrinkles his nose at Clarissa.  “Good, I’m not too late.  I’m Gideon, by the way,” he says as he begins his pre-ritual cleansing and preparations.

Clarissa struggles to sit upright, unleashing a stream of filth at both men, reserving her choicest words as usual for Mike.

If he’s surprised, Gideon hides it well. “Verbosus vomitus…the final stage.  This is where we separate the women from the girls.  So, does anybody have a joke…a clean one?”

“#$^&!@!!”

“I’ve tried that, but it only seems to agitate her.”  Mike peers around the newcomer at his wife.  She sees him and hisses.

“Very well, let’s see what I can come up with.”  Gideon sits upon a nearby chair and moves closer to Clarissa’s writhing form.  To Mike he adds in a low voice, “My methods may be crude and some of my material lame, but I usually succeed…usually…eventually.  If not…well, let’s not even go there.”

Gideon takes a deep breath.  “What do you call a man with no arms and no legs on a barbecue.”

“#$^&!@!!#$%!”

“Frank!”

“#$^&!@!!#$%!@, you stupid %*&^##”

“Okay.  Next level then.  A brunette walks into the doctor’s office and says ‘Doctor, it hurts when I press here, here, and here.’ Doc examines her then asks, ‘You’re not a natural brunette, are you?’  Brunette gasps and says, ‘I’m a blonde, but how did you know?’ Doc says, ‘Your finger’s broken’.”

Clarissa’s brow wrinkles, and her eyes glaze over.  The faintest hint of a giggle escapes the parched lips of her mouth.  The giggle swells into a chuckle.  The chuckle blooms into a guffaw which explodes into a tornado of hysterical laughter.  The sweat on her cheeks mingles with the tears that flow freely from her eyes, and on her last hiccup of raucous belly laughter, she disgorges her newborn baby into the waiting hands of midwife Gideon Thayer, aka the baby whisperer, and worth every penny of his fee.

Mike mouths, “Thank you” and unleashes his own tears, that join those of his exhausted wife and their brand new son.

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