I come home and my sister is possessed. She’s crawling across the popcorn ceiling of her apartment, greenpeasoup goo dripping from her lips. When she sees me, she hisses and scurries to the top left corner of the kitchen. She hangs upside down above the stack of unwashed, pasta-encrusted dishes I’ve been ignoring for days. Just one of the many neglected chores I’m responsible for in exchange for a cheaper share of the rent.

“Are you drunk again?” she asks and spews sludge across the white tile floor.

I am. But I don’t tell her.


I call Tiffany in the morning. Her dad is also possessed. She and her wife have locked him in the basement and blocked the door with their old, coffee-stained couch.

“Have you called an exorcist?” I ask her. I have to shout. My sister is in the other room screaming in a language I can’t understand.

“They’re all backed up. We have an appointment but it’s like another four weeks away. I hear it doesn’t even always work,” Tiffany says.

Nic Anstett

Nic Anstett, a writer from Baltimore, MD, loves the bizarre, spectacular, and queer. She is a graduate from the University of Oregon’s MFA program and has attended workshops through the Clarion Foundation, Lambda Literary, and Tin House, where she was a 2021 scholar. Her published and forthcoming fiction can be found in Witness Magazine, Passages North, Michigan Quarterly Review, North American Review, Lightspeed, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere. Nic has also written essays and articles for publications such as Autostraddle and Tor.com. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories and a novel.

Patrick Ryan on “The Exorsister”

“The Exorsister” is a story about two grownup sisters. One is a trans woman who has discovered that transitioning doesn’t necessarily mean you leave all your old troubles behind. She drank too much before; she drinks too much now. She used to see herself as a bad older brother; now she sees herself as a bad older sister, one who doesn’t have her act together and has had to move in with her younger sibling—who, at the beginning of the story, has just become demonically possessed.

Because in the world of this story (which the author builds with astounding brevity), there’s been a rash of demonic possessions—a plague of them, all over the world. You never know who’s going to turn next. Could be your sibling, could be you. And there aren’t enough exorcists in the world to tend to all the possessed.

Stories sometimes quietly open themselves to reveal other stories, and sometimes those stories open up too. So it is with “The Exorsister,” which somehow manages to be horrifying, funny, and moving. One Story is delighted to be publishing this highly original story about change, acceptance, and envy by Nic Anstett.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did you get the idea for this story?
NA: This conceit for “The Exorsister” came about in two stages. I’m pretty sure the original concept of a plague of demonic possessions came from hearing the tagline to the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake which was something along the lines of “When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” As a former Catholic, I remember being really fascinated by this idea of creatures spilling out of Hell and into our world, even if that wasn’t really at all what the movie was about. I ended up writing the basic idea down as a potential story to explore later on, but I didn’t have an emotional angle to access yet so it kind of sat untouched for at least a year or so. The story really started coming to life after my sister complained to me that all my stories were about brothers, dads, moms, or lovers, but never about sisters. My sister is one of my favorite people, but her comment made me think of how I could utilize the demonic possession idea to explode the tensions in a more fraught sibling relationship between a trans woman and her cisgender sister. It also just sort of turns out that demonic possession narratives are steeped in Catholic imagery and tradition, and it seemed like a sort of natural way to toy with my own relationship with the Church and religion, especially as a trans person.
PR: How long did it take you to get a draft you were happy enough to start submitting?
NA: “The Exorsister” was a strange story in that it kind of felt close to fully formed after the first draft. I had originally planned to take it to the Tin House Summer Workshop in 2022, but most of my beta readers thought that the first draft was already close to where it needed to be. So the turnaround was maybe just three months or so from first draft to my first submission.
PR: When you started writing the story, did you have an outline for it? A plan? Or did you start with a premise and explore the possibilities?
NA: Normally I start with a premise and write the first third of the original draft free of any explicit end point or expectation. This allows me to get a sense of the voice, the structure, and some of the basic character relationships without certain expectations or plans preventing me from making exciting choices. Once I get to a point where I feel like I have a strong foundation, I write down two or three scenes or moments, including an ending, that I feel the story needs to include. These become signposts that help prevent getting lost in a certain detail or investing too much time on a tangent that ultimately doesn’t feel fruitful. But “The Exorsister” wasn’t like that. I had the occasional idea I wanted to build towards as I was writing, but I never really had a clear endgame. Instead, I mostly followed where I felt the characters’ emotional states were, where they were headed, and what parts of them needed to be clarified or expanded at any given time.
PR: Do you think about symbols and metaphors when you write?
NA: I think that speculative or non-realist fiction that is written too intentionally with symbols or metaphors in mind runs the risk of being didactic. I do like to use the fantastical elements of my fiction as gateways into larger emotional or political themes but I more so want them to act as prisms that allow you to reframe or recontextualize real world experiences rather than to function as a stand-in or demand one specific interpretation.
PR: Do you think of this as a love story? That’s how it lives in my mind, though I could see another reader thinking of it primarily as a horror story.
NA: I think of this as a love story between two sisters, but also for the narrator, who is hopefully getting closer to loving herself. Even though my relationship with my sister is not nearly as fraught as the one presented in “The Exorsister,” I have still experienced moments of deep envy or bitterness towards her or other young cis women. It’s hard, I think, for many trans people not to yearn for some sort of cosmic redo on the years spent in the closet, and I often find myself mourning a girlhood I never got to experience. The narrator in “The Exorsister” has let this pain poison a relationship with a sister who in many ways is her biggest supporter, so the arc of the story ends up being about finding a path towards acceptance and reconciliation. But, y’know, sometimes there needs to be a demonic possession to make that happen.
PR: Here’s a question you can just answer yes or no, if you’d like: Do you know what happens past the ending?
NA: When it comes to the siblings at the center of the story, no. I think of short stories as tiny ecosystems contained in a bubble that can be easily popped if you push too hard against its edges. So, I kind of purposefully have closed the book on these two. As for the rest of the world? I’m not optimistic that humanity will be able to solve a demonic possession plague. There are only so many exorcists.
PR: Was the title of the story always going to be “The Exorsister,” or did you have another in mind?
NA: Almost all of my stories start with placeholder joke titles. I’ve always loved how the composer Michael Giacchinno puns all his track titles and I try my best at capturing that kind of energy until a more thematically appropriate title fits. But I kind of fell in love with “The Exorsister” and I can’t really see this story being called anything else.
PR: Complete this sentence with one word: “‘The Exorsister’ is about __________.”
NA: Envy
PR: What are you working on now?
NA: I’m currently working on prepping my collection of short stories for submission! My agent and I are hoping to have it ready to send out sometime this fall, so that’s been occupying most of my writing time. I’m also in the weeds of drafting a novel about kaiju and the film industry’s treatment of marginalized communities.
PR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
NA: I just finished a really wonderful workshop with K-Ming Chang at the Lambda Literary Retreat. Of the many incredible insights she offered during that week, one I keep coming back to, is allowing shame to be a productive emotion. It’s sometimes just best to write about the things that make you uncomfortable and to keep burrowing into those unsettling ideas until you arrive at a place of insight or inspiration.