Here’s another preview at Charcoal Streets. Carmen was always one of my favorite characters going into this. While most of you have already guessed what she is, it makes it hard to really give her a challenge. This story, though, aims to change that.
Love is not something that just happens. Sometimes you fall for someone the first time. That’s called lust. When the feeling passes, you reach something more real. We say love, real love, lasts forever. Maybe it does. I hope so. Still, the cynic in me always looks for story possibilities, and Carmen’s… unique lineage opens the door for all sorts of mischief.
Carmen tried to move her hair out of her face, but the caked blood made it difficult. She’d had to contend with the slightly tacky strands of hair banging on her face. When she finally got home, she was thankful the streetlights didn’t work and most people weren’t awake at three in the morning.
She went to unlock the door, but it swung open. Before it could creak, she had her Glock out and ready. It still had a few rounds left, more than enough for her to do what she needed to do. Without turning the lights on, Carmen walked, room by room, and found nothing. Satisfied that the house was empty, she turned the lights on to get a better lock. Nothing looked disturbed. Her weapon cache remained intact and the safe-box in the bedroom was untouched. However, on the dining room table, she found a folded piece of paper.
Her name was scrawled on the outside with a very fine point pen. Inside, Carmen found sets of scratches that looked oddly like writing, but she didn’t recognize any symbols. After she turned the lights off and made sure the door was locked, she ran out into the night.
Luz opened her door and stared at the woman on the other end. Attractive, yes, and built like a ballerina trained at boot camp. Her hair and face had bits of dried, brown blood on them. Luz was at least a head shorter and thin with zero muscle tone, but she stared down the new arrival.
“Come to blow up my door again, Carmen?”
“No,” Carmen said. “I need your help. I found this letter-”
“‘How are you, Luz?’ ‘Oh, I’m fine, and yourself?’ ‘Never better. Still caked in the blood of the wicked. How’s the new door?’ ‘Great! Finally managed to get the smell of Semtex and soot out of the house.’”
Carmen stood at the door for a long time as Luz stared up at her. She finally said, “Look, I offered to pay for the door-”
“You. Blew up. My front porch.”
“And. I’m sorry. But you were hiding a mark.”
“What do you want, Carmen?”
Carmen handed her the envelope. Luz opened it and her scowl softened as she said, “Where did you get this?”
“Someone left it for me. The writing, well, it looks like writing, looks familiar. I was wondering if you knew what it was.”
Luz kept her eyes on the writing as she turned and walked back in. Carmen tried to follow but felt as though she were walking through mud before she stopped at the doorframe. A quick look up and down the frame and she finally noticed the protective wards carved into the wood.
“Can I come in?” she said.
“No,” said Luz from inside the kitchen. The young witch walked back to the door only a minute later with a thick, coverless book. She had the letter by one of the pages and said, “This is cuneiform. And I haven’t studied it in a while, so don’t expect a Rosetta Stone moment, but it looks like a love letter.”
Carmen tried to grab the paper but her hand stopped at the frame. Luz smiled and said, “You’re still not getting in. Look, let me run off a copy so I can translate it and I’ll get back to you when I know something.”
Luz shut the door. As Carmen walked away, she saw a figure in the trees across the street. Old neighborhoods always had the best hiding trees. Whatever sat on the treetop a moment ago vanished by the time Carmen saw the disturbed leaves fall. She went for her Glock, but stopped when she realized just how fast the stalker had moved and how far he would have dropped if he hit the ground.
Via Rosa’s cool night enveloped her. Downtown smelled like pot, gunpowder, car exhaust, and spilled motor oil, but Carmen was looking for a different scent.
Wilted flowers, just a hint of wet dirt…
She found him coming out of Sonny’s. His long black duster and wide-brimmed hat couldn’t hide the shaggy hair and unkempt beard. He barely lit his cigarette with a broken match when he turned to her and said, “Fuck off.”
“I need your help, Miguel,” she said.
He coughed a lungful of smoke and said, “You know, I don’t think of myself as a vindictive person, but you have so little clout with me right now-”
“Someone’s following me.”
Miguel took another drag and said, “Wow. You? You don’t have an enemy in the world, right? You usually kill them.”
“Pinche fallen angel-”
Miguel’s eyes flashed blue light before fading back to normal. He said, “You wanna start something? We both know I can take you. Now, there’s a band I like playing down the street. I’m going to watch them, get drunk, go home, and sleep it off.”
Carmen eased her hand off the Bowie knife. A crowd left a bar across the street. Their laughter and footsteps almost drowned the faint tap of someone landing on the roof two buildings down. Miguel smirked and Carmen saw that he hadn’t heard anything. He walked up to her and said, “Magic knives won’t hurt me. Chingate, and leave me alone.”
“There’s an angel after me.”
She saw the pause in his motion. He looked her up and down and sniffed the air before saying, “You’re not lying.”
“At least, I think it’s an angel. Could be a demon, so I need-”
“I said you weren’t lying. I didn’t say you couldn’t be wrong. There were eighteen angels and about fifteen demons in Via Rosa last time I checked, and I can’t think of a single reason any of them would want to stalk you.”
“Well one of them’s been tracking me since I got back to my house. I don’t think he or she knows it’s me, but I need some kind of information to take back to Luz.”
Miguel threw his cigarette away and motioned Carmen to walk with him. He said, “Why’s the little alchemist involved?”
“Whoever is following me left me a letter. She’s translating it right now, but she said it looks like a love letter. Now, the only things that could hide from me are demons or angels so-”
“Wait, wait, wait…” Miguel turned with a smile on his face. He let out one laugh and said, “Someone left you a love letter?”
“That’s not the point.”
“You’re freaking out because someone left you a love letter? Please. What guy is that desperate?”
“It’s one of your brothers.”
“I don’t know if you noticed, but the family hasn’t gotten along for a few eons. Can’t help you. But I’ll tell you this. Whoever’s following you is good.”
“I barely heard his footsteps right now.”
The sun rose and colored the brick and glass buildings. Carmen sat on the bridge overlooking the river. The smell of soapy water thrown on sidewalks and the aroma of cooked meat from a dozen street vendors was overpowered by the stench of sulfur.
“Hi, Lilith,” she said.
She turned to face the demon. Her form wavered between shapes. Her eyes, one purple and one green, remained constant. Whatever form she turned from moment to moment, Lilith kept on a long coat and her hair never went shorter than shoulder-length.
The demon said, “I heard you had a stalker, little raindrop.”
“Figured Miguel would talk. Chismoso.”
“Yes. He asked around. And no, it’s not a demon that’s after you.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
She giggled. Carmen caught a hint of sharp fangs behind her lips. Lilith said, “Demons don’t lie, little raindrop. It’s counterproductive.”
“Whatever. Not like I could tell anyway.”
Lilith lit her cigarette by touching its tip. Somehow, thought Carmen, the smell was sweeter than Lilith’s aura. The demon said, “Maybe it’s not a demon or an angel.”
Carmen tensed. Lilith felt the increased emotion and said, “You know why you’re so fast, why you can sense our kind.”
“You mean ‘your’ kind. I’m-”
“You’re one of the Fallen, whether you like it or not. Heaven doesn’t want a mutt like you, and we don’t want all that sparkley angelic blood in Hell. I know my people aren’t after you, and the haloes want just as little to do with you…”
Carmen already knew it. She sensed it when she couldn’t hear the stalker. She figured it out when she talked to Miguel, but it wasn’t something she wanted to consider.
“I can kill a demon, or even an angel,” she said. “Hell, send a hit squad after me, I’ll kill all of them. But…”
Lilith grinned wide enough for Carmen to see the demon’s fangs. Her eyes glowed like embers as she said, “But now you’re dealing with another half-breed. And you’re not bound by the rules. And Fallen are out of my jurisdiction. And Heaven’s. Fallen have desires. Fallen can kill humans. Congratulations. You have an immortal stalker with superpowers.”