One of the many things I’ve been trying to get off the ground in the last two years, more like three, is the Gnosis RPG. It’s a new game system and campaign setting designed to be gritty, dangerous, and easy to play and set up. The campaign world is the modern world, except it’s really not. See, all those conspiracy theories about rock music being a tool of Satanic cults, or that NASA is hiding aliens in Area 51, or that big businesses are really a front for an ancient conspiracy to rule the world after they kill most of the human population, are actually true.
Yup. Every. Last. One.
Magic is real. Science is being held back. Aliens are constantly trying to invade. Religion is a front. Tin foil hats really DO protect your brain from the spy satellites. And if you try hard enough, you can become the thing the monsters fear, become a monster yourself, or start your own conspiracy.
One of the things I wanted to do with this setting, though, was to give everything a “real-world” explanation, even if it involved fringe science or a stretch of what science said was allowed. Clearly, conservation of energy, momentum, and all those silly physics laws prevent pretty much all of this from existing, but by minimizing or at least giving some semblance of explanation, even if it’s flimsy, the game seems just a little more real. Respecting established science is one of the best ways to come up with a setting that feels fantastic yet plausible.
Take, for example, the simple matter of angels and demons.
I say simple in the same way that designing the space shuttle from scratch is simple.
I wanted to bring religious horror to Gnosis, and the idea of demonic possession and even angels as alien beings far removed from the fluffy-winged images of modern society appealed to me greatly. They would form two sides of one of the major conspiracies in the game’s universe. However, how to make them semi-realistic or at least sound plausible?
Firstly, I needed to figure out what was an angel and what was a demon.
I quickly settled on the idea that both angels and demons were not so different. In fact, in many myths, demons are fallen angels. That being said, perhaps the difference between both is more philosophical than physical. In that case, I needed a new name for this new creature and settled on the Elohim and that the titles of “angels” and “demons” were just one of the many cloaks they wore when seeking worship, an act that fed them psychic energy. The name is the ancient Hebrew name of God, and I figured a race of beings that present themselves as gods and divine beings would certainly approve of.
The most common ability both angels and demons seem to have is the ability to communicate with people despite not being in the same room, so telepathy is a must. Possession is also popular, more so for demons that angels, so that needs to get rolled in there. Barring that, what’s left?
Angels are often described as warriors, but the original texts describe them as beings that would not be out of place in a Lovecraftian horror story. They are supposedly massive, alien, and powerful. To even look at an angel is to invite death and destruction. In other words, their true form might not even be possible to have in-game. Demons are also usually described as horrific, so again there is some common ground between both camps of Elohim.
Of course, maybe the shapes and wild visions of angels and demons in the old texts are not real images, but rather hallucinations and deceit. Maybe Elohim wanted to appear as huge imposing wheels of fire and titanic beasts covered in a thousand eyes. Maybe this is part of how they bring worshippers to their side, and how, as demons, they torture others. Illusions, then, would be another power to have, but just letting them have the power of illusion is too broad. Maybe they can specifically alter the mood of those who see them in order to inspire fear. In high enough doses, that fear could manifest as visions of giant monsters. Consider how someone who is arachnophobic, for example, might see a tiny spider as a beast the size of a horse. Is this power psychic? Hormonal?
That brings up the next aspect. Should Elohim even have physical bodies? Making them flesh and blood makes them real, but it also makes them supremely vulnerable. It also makes things like possession more difficult. How to justify a physical being entering and overlapping with another living creature’s body and mind? That pesky mass has to go somewhere right? Making the Elohim energy or gas or something similar would then make more sense.
But what about a compromise? Maybe Elohim are physical beings, but their effects on this world are entirely psychic. The only way they can communicate is through telepathy, providing a conduit for their powers to present themselves as gods and demons. This would also provide a path for the power of possession. Maybe they don’t exactly “possess” a person, but rather use people as puppets, and the sheer mental power from the angel or demon mind is enough to grant the possessed some powers of their own. If they ever actually crossed over into our world, though, then the physical aspects would come into play.
So what are the Elohim like physically? What would our heroes need to fight if these beings ever actually crossed into our reality?
They need to be tough. Very tough. Rhino-hide tough. Small caliber weapons should bounce off them and nothing short of an assault rifle with armor-piercing bullets, or maybe a bundle of C4, should faze them. Humanoid? Maybe, but at least in the sense that Elohim will have legs, arms, a torso, and a head. The proportions should be suitably alien, as should the face. In keeping with the disturbing aspect to the uncanny valley, the face should be somewhat human but alien in minor aspects, certainly the eyes, but also in the placement of features. The skin would likely vary in shade between different Elohim, but that’s a detail I can’t quite place yet. I am, however, a fan of the general color scheme of the angel in the Masters of Horror episode “Cigarette Burns.”
Wings? Maybe, but not bird-like wings, or if they are bird-like, they should be large, powerful, and convey the image that this creature is a killer, a warrior, and certainly not a messenger with fluffy wings. The Elohim would need to be big, too, maybe as ten or twelve feet tall, in order to truly convey the power of an angel or demon from hell. They’re basically going to be organic tanks, super-strong, and with enough psychic power to make people fear them on sight. Most of their interactions with the world will be through their “possessed” victims, and once they actually manage to cross over… things get interesting.
Figuring out the mechanics is another matter, but at least having a solid image is enough to get going.
In the meantime, enjoy the feeling of having your imagination bring you real adventure…
Here’s the deal. Charcoal Streets is going to go live in two to three weeks. This is the cover for the ebook, but I still want to make sure it’s as good as possible. I’m already adding a third pair of wings since this is supposed to be a seraph and I got the lines confused.
Anything else you can think of? Any and all suggestions or critiques are welcome, but be quick!
Mary and I had an idea for an RPG. In a few weeks, when we need a break from D&D, we’re going to run a superhero game. As much as I would love to learn Mutants and Masterminds, I’m going to use the ever-flexible Cortex system and my players will become super-powered heroes. Well, the “heroes” part might be a stretch.
In figuring out how to make their powers balanced and work within the context of the rules, a few writing troubles arouse that made me conscious of a few flaws and doubts about my own writing. For example, in making a game about superheroes, the inevitable flying brick will appear. You know the type. Super-strong, super-tough, flight, and will be nigh-invulnerable unless you manage to find yourself some tanks or a really big nuclear missile. How would a super-powered but otherwise normal vigilante stand up to something that can tear through buildings with its bare hands? Angels, and Carmen, in Charcoal Streets offer a similar dilemma for me.
Superman by *DazTibbles on deviantART
They’re very strong, very tough, and have a small suite of powers that make them demigods compared to normal humans. In the as-yet-unfinished story “Eternal Love and Other Lies,” for example, Carmen has to contend with another of the nephilim, a half-angel, who is just as strong as her and maybe more crafty. Not to spoil much, but Carmen has to think outside the box to take care of this…
But that’s one solution. I do have story reasons for angels not just exposing themselves and ruling as god-emperors. I just have to make sure it makes sense.
Just like it should make sense that Superman doesn’t just go rogue and take over the world.
There are reasons in the story that prevent this immortal from taking over. He’s the new nuclear option. Angels in my stories are powerful enough to level a city if they tried. Carmen had to resort to mystical means to kill a demon, and even then it was hinted that killing a demon is a very rare event.
What does any of this have to do with the RPG I mentioned in the beginning? What does it have to do with writing?
If you characters have skills, make sure the threats they deal with are comparable to those skills. This is the reason Superman Returns sucked. You have one of the most powerful beings in the universe return to Earth and he has to deal with… being an absentee father? At least in Smallville they had the good sense to depower Supes for a while so he could deal with more down-to-Earth problems and still make it plausible for him to have a life.
In effect, this is the danger of the Mary Sue, the superman in writing, the intrepid archeologist adventurer that has a solution to everything and just happens to know the right bit of information to solve the puzzle at the last minute. This is why proper background planning is essential for characters. Give them some sort of reasonable flaw, their kryptonite, if you will. Don’t make them invincible men and women who can do everything. I actually edited a manuscript once that included dog groomers who were trained commandoes and could quickly quit their day-jobs and head to South America for a black ops mission after being recruited by a retired soldier who had just won the lottery and was putting together a team.
And if that sounds like it might be awesome, let me burst your bubble right now.
It sucked a bag of donkey dong.
If your characters are gods in a world of mortals, why even include the mortals?
“It’s a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then… he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. And how fortunate we all are that it does not occur to him.”
-Batman, Superman/Batman #3
And now, let’s look at a man who is crazy-prepared… but it makes sense.
I’m working on a new Charcoal Streetsstory tentatively titled “When Angels Come Marching Home Again.” I went to the library to get some books for research (and could they please turn the AC on?!) and was initially torn on a number of issues.
If you read this blog with any frequency, you’ll probably notice that I am a raging liberal who, according to the far-Right wing, likes to eat babies and convert youth to communism in an attempt to destroy the Constitution that Jesus wrote. That being said, don’t you ever say I am not a patriot. I love this country. I may not have been born here, but I love the American dream and the opportunities I’ve been given in here. With that comes a deep respect for the members of our armed forces. With one major exception, I’ve known members of the military to be exceptional men and women who are willing to sacrifice their time and energy, often their lives, for this country. Nothing makes me prouder than to see these men and women in uniform.
So how can I possibly write a story that hinges on the troubles of a psychologically damaged soldier coming back and trying to adjust to civilian life while hurting those around him?
A superficial reading might paint this as a tale that discourages military service and paints combat veterans as psychos who may hurt their families and loved ones. It might paint Esteban, the main character, as a monster. It would easy, ridiculously easy, to paint me as a guy who hates the troops and wishes the military were shut down.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s like any article I’ve ever written where I express concern with laws that hurt certain groups or the times I’ve lamented the state of education. It’s not that I hate the educational system or want this country to be toppled to make way for some utopia based on hypothetical scenarios. The fact is that soldiers coming back from the war face real problems.
For example, one of the authors I’m looking into wrote something I hadn’t considered before. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) includes constant nervousness and sensitivity to sounds. It’s a state of hyper-alertness where a former warrior may fall back on instincts without intending to hurt someone because of months, sometimes years of time of the battlefield. These are not a disorder, he says, but rather survival training that is essential in a war zone. In the middle of a war, what we would call PTSD is simply the combined instincts needed to not die. The trick is being able to help soldiers tone those reactions down to function in a peace-time environment. If they were ever re-deployed, those instincts would need to come back out, though. That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, though, just that we’ve classified it as something different.
I struggled with writing this story, but I was, and I hesitate to use this word, inspired by an incident several years ago.
At a bar hosting one of my favorite bands, Pretty Visitors, I happened to run into a gentleman who had recently come back from Iraq. I shook his hand and offered to buy him a drink as a small thank you for his service. Then he explained he was a contractor working with Halliburton. He was also a bit tipsy and quickly got angry for the lack of respect he felt society gave to him and his friends. He’d lost people in Iraq, he said. People didn’t understand his pain. They didn’t understand what it was like to lose someone and come back to a country that hated you and wanted the war to end. He worked with Halliburton to help our country. He was just doing his job, he cried. Why couldn’t people respect him?
That’s when I realized something. He worked security for Halliburton. He wasn’t a soldier, or a marine, or anything like that. He might have been at one point, but now he was a private contractor.
I don’t think anyone joins the Army or Marines or Air Force, Navy, or Coast Guard intending to get rich and earn respect. Pretty much everyone I’ve met who served has done so for love of country. The gentleman I met was out for money and glory and he lamented that society didn’t respect him for fighting for them… and money. That much became obvious as he said he was just doing his job and he and his friends worked for Halliburton to make sure we got the oil.
People need to realize something. I am against the wars in the Middle East. I think they were poorly planned and an attempt by business interests to make money despite any good done. The men and women who went and served and died, though? They didn’t make those choices. They followed orders. It’s the men and women who gave those orders and did so for money that I am against.
That’s what the story is about: choices and chances. You chose to become a soldier. You happen to get orders based on greed and self-service as opposed to national security. My conflict was with writing this story and having it come off as a condemnation of the troops. It’s not. A few hours of research into it, and I’m sure I can make this work.
We just got out of almost a decade of wars. Our veterans need our help. Don’t forget that.
And now, to lighten the mood, I give you people who are real idiots from around the world. Enjoy.
I’ve been writing since I was in fourth grade. And by that I mean stories, not just writing in general. I can’t for the life of me remember the names of any of my early characters, but I can certainly remember the ideas and images that made e want to use them. Characters, I found out early enough, need to be able to breathe. They must feel real and alive.
A character does whatever a character does.
I found this out playing Dungeons and Dragons, too. Most monsters are faceless and nameless thugs, thieves, demons, and occasionally fey who are there to provide a good combat challenge. For the big dogs, though, the characters that become recurring villains, I have to do a little more work. The same thing goes for Charcoal Streets. I need to sit down and figure out what makes these guys tick. Once I do that, I can put them in a situation and see what they do.
It’s an interesting thought exercise, but it’s not something out of reach for most people. If you don’t have time to make up your own characters, try to figure out what two established characters would do in a situation. What would happen if you put Richard Riddick in a maze trap designed by Jigsaw? All the people he could just let die and not care… but what WOULD make someone like that care? How could you raise the stakes?
When I designed my current D&D campaign’s primary villain, I set to make her something that would resonate with everyone and just let the interactions color future installments.
Her name is Keyleth Greymoon. She was a paladin of light until her xenophobia and paranoia made her leave her unti with several dozen soldiers in an attempt to gather power to “properly protect” her realm. This included trying to free a fallen angel and killing every non-fey in an isolated valley.
At first, she was just a xenophobe. She was particularly sickened by our half-elf rogue whom she called a half-human and, infamously for my players, a “half-breed bitch.”
Two and a half years later and they’re still steamed at her about that.
And that’s when I knew I’d made a memorable character. The line was ad-libbed. It sounded like something Keyleth would say, but it struck such a chord among my friends, all of whom abhor any sort of racism or elitism, that Keyleth is still around and the mere mention of her makes their skin boil. There are other incidents, but they all started with a few background notes.
I have similar notes for the characters of Charcoal Streets. Miguel, Carmen, Luz, Father Flores… if you think I don’t know their favorite drinks, hobbies, and hang-outs. You’re sadly mistaken. I know why Carmen prefers Glock pistols. I know what Father Flores’ tattoo means. I know why Miguel lives in that crappy apartment.
It’s all in the details, in the little things that nudge a character. Make sure you know what your characters do. Let them breathe. Let them have a drink, a smoke, and go to bed with whatever or whomever they want.
Characters are trees. You can’t tell where the branches will go. Just let them grow.
And now, until the next post, please enjoy dumb people this month.
Okay, so maybe that won’t be the title of the comic, but the art just below this post should give you a good idea of what’s ahead. In a few weeks, once I finish making the sprites, I’ll be starting a bi-weekly webcomic based on the characters in Charcoal Streets.
At first, the comics may be one to three panels, but as I get more comfortable with the format, I may expand into full sheet comics. The stories will be stand-alone entries into the mythology… although their canon status may be debatable as they will certainly be a but sillier and rely on visual humor as much as dialog. I’ll be honest… it took me hours to get this first comic done. Most of that came from the fact that I had to draw the sprites, get the backgrounds ready, and otherwise do everything instead. I’m hoping to get a gallery of stock backgrounds and props so I don’t have to go hunting all the time.
Additionally, I’m writing up the rules for a contest through deviantART. Those familiar with the site and those that have memberships will be happy to know I’ll be giving away an ad plan and maybe a few months of premium membership.
In the meantime, enjoy these character portraits, take a look at some Charcoal Streets art, keep spreading the word about Charcoal Streets and Randomology, and I’ll see you all here on Friday.
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.”
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.”
I highly recommend you re-read “Beautiful Lies” first. I added an extra scene and subtly changed the dialogue. To be honest, I thought I knew where this was going when I started, but as things went along, I realized it had to go in a different place. Muriel was a different animal by the end.
It was actually very difficult to write this second half once I realized I needed to change the entire last third of this story arc. Oh well.
Angel and demon walked through the back alleys of Via Rosa, avoided the major streets, clubs, and haunts, and eventually ended up in a neighborhood near the river that ran through the city. Everything smelled like soap and roasted meat and as they turned around the last corner, they saw a group of men with food carts heading downtown to meet the hungry late shifts.
Muriel, however, knew where they were.
“Fuck you, Miguel,” he said. “I’ve got a Fallen Son on my ass and you go and take me to see her?”
Miguel pulled his wide-brimmed hat close. The wind almost took it and his long black duster. He pointed to the run-down house at the end of the block and said, “She’s the only one that can help you right now.”
“I’m running from the fucking Fallen Sons-”
“One Fallen Son.”
“Qué importa! And you have me running to la bruja?”
“You know she doesn’t like that name,” Miguel said as he grabbed Muriel by the back of his shifting coat and dragged him to the front door of a Colonial-style two-story brick house. Uncut grass and wild plants in broken pots marked their path as they arrived at the cast-iron door. He said, “Now shut up and grow a pair. It’s this or I leave you with the Fallen Son.”
The door opened. A woman in her twenties stood there with blue jeans and a dusty black shirt. She was a local, for sure, thought Muriel. Tanned, a bit short, but he saw hints of an athletic frame under the baggy shirt and rumpled pants.
But he couldn’t smell her. She might as well have been a mannequin.
“Luz,” Miguel said.
“Hello, Miguel. Come on in,” she said. Miguel followed into a home that looked like it had been decorated by someone who longed to see Mexico and had no real idea what it was all about. Bright orange and yellows and greens covered every wall. Shelves along almost every wall overflowed with books, vials of various liquids, and bottles filled with everything from preserved piglets and what Muriel guessed were tequila worms. The front of the house was a large open area with the kitchen, living room, and dining room all sharing the same space, and the space was covered with books like some homes were covered in picture frames. Everything looked handmade and at least a hundred years old.
“I can’t smell anything,” he said.
Luz chuckled and said, “Of course you can’t. The whole house is enchanted. Nothing can see in unless I want it, and nothing and no one can enter as long as I don’t let it.”
“Ándale,” Muriel said, “but I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in here.”
“Hopefully you won’t have to,” Luz said while she sat on the couch and took several of the heavy tomes from her coffee table off until she found a Moleskine notebook with bookmarks, dog-ears and a worn cover. She finally found the page she wanted and put the notebook in a separate book-pile over the sofa as she said, “I think I can cloak you for a good long while, at least until we can figure out something more permanent. But I’m going to have to stick you somewhere while I get the last few things ready.”
Miguel thumbed through an old Bible. He looked up and said, “But you said no one could see in here.”
“I did,” Luz said, “but if he’s being hunted by nephilim, they’ll follow his trail right back here. They won’t be able to see inside, but they’ll know he’s here, and I have to leave the house too, you know. I’m just going to stick him somewhere for a few days.”
The doorbell rang. Luz smiled and skipped to the door. Muriel and Miguel watched as she escorted a teenage girl back to the living room. The new girl was thin and mousy, and Muriel looked her up and down while walking behind her.
“Hungry?” Miguel asked in Enochian.
Muriel responded in kind, “It’d be like eating oatmeal. I’m hungry, but I’ll wait for something with flavor.”
The girl looked at both of them as they spoke, but Luz took her hand and they sat down on the couch. As Luz tilted her head to tell the others to leave the room, the girl said, “I’m so glad you can see me. Do you think you can help?”
“Of course. I just need a few things.”
Muriel and Miguel stepped into the hallway and waited. Muriel kept running his fingers over the walls. After five minutes, Miguel said, “Do you have to keep doing that?”
“I feel like I have a cold.”
“How would you know?”
“I mean everything’s dull, like my head’s stuffed up, hombre. I miss smelling.”
Luz walked into the hall and flagged them. They went back to the living room and found the girl sitting on the largest chair in the place. Her tilted head swayed as she moaned.
“Is she okay?” Miguel said.
“She’s fine,” said Luz. She inhaled deeply and the others looked at her. “Monkey see, monkey do,” she said. “She wouldn’t take a hit unless I joined her.”
Muriel lifted the girl’s hand and said, “Hit of what?”
“Just some… secret herbs and spices. Nothing serious. She wanted me to put a spell on her mom, curse her or something, but I figure this will work too. She’s out like a light and her body’s got just enough belladonna and party mix in her to let you jump right in.”
Muriel shrugged and started unbuttoning the girl’s blouse before Miguel grabbed his hand and the former angel’s eyes glowed blue.
“Oh,” the demon said. “You meant ‘Possess her.’ Got it. Next time, be clear.”
He placed his hands on her forehead and concentrated until he flowed into her as easily as a breath. The girl stood and stretched. Miguel could see the awkward walk as the girl wiggled her fingers.
He finally asked, “Everything okay in there?”
The girl turned around. For a moment, her eyes were two different colors before Muriel went deeper. She said, “Yeah, everything’s good. Just kicking the tires.”
Luz took a few deep breaths and said, “You should be fine in there for a while. Just give me a few days to figure out how to mask you and you’ll be okay. Let the girl drive and come back on Saturday. I should have everything ready.”
The girl rolled her eyes and said, “Yes, mom.”
Luz giggled and said, “That’s pretty good. You’ll blend in.”
Miguel chucked and said, “No, that was still Muriel.”
The demon was close. Its footsteps left a glowing trail through the city. Carmen touched the ground and felt the warmth from its passage. It crisscrossed the city and formed a net, but she was patient. Checking to make sure her dagger remained in place, she ran down the street.
Miguel entered Luz’s house in the middle of the night, this time carrying two full grocery bags. As soon as he put them down, Luz examined the contents.
“Is this all the sea salt they had?” she asked.
Miguel put the change on the counter and said, “It’s the middle of the desert.”
“Fine. That will have to do. I’ve almost got the circle ready in my room and-”
Muriel walked through the front door and into the kitchen. Miguel and Luz watched him grab a glass of water and fill it to the brim, then transform it into whiskey. He drank it in one quick series of deep gulps while Luz and Miguel looked on in shock.
“What the fuck happened?” Luz asked.
Muriel finished the glass and started to fill it and said, “I got evicted. Something about no pets.”
Miguel shifted towards him in a blur and knocked the glass into the sink. He said, “We’re almost ready to give you a way out and you go and blow it?”
“Not my fault!” the demon said. “I was waiting in the girl and I got bored, so I started fucking around with the parents.”
“And a big fucking red alarm didn’t go off? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I’m not good at just sitting around! Besides, the priest called the Baptist.”
Miguel stared for a second, then said, “Yeah, you never had a chance. Never mind. We’re almost ready. Just sit for a few seconds and-”
The front door splintered and bits of doorframe flew into the far wall. Luz covered herself as Miguel and Muriel were thrown back by the impact. When Muriel looked up, he saw a young woman, Middle-Eastern or Native; he wasn’t sure. Her hair was tied back and she wore a camo pants and a plain black shirt. She held a black-handled bowie knife in her hand and instantly focused on Muriel.
He stood and dashed for the back door. The dust from the explosion seemed to stay still and Luz would never have seen him as he rushed through the house. He hit dust suspended in midair, but Carmen easily kept up.
Luz fell as the gust of wind from their speed pushed her into the wall. Miguel picked her up and once he saw she was fine, she asked, “How the hell did she get in here?”
“You don’t smell that? She blew your door away. Took out your wards.”
She picked up a piece of charred wood and said, “What now?”
Miguel looked out the back door and said, “Now we see if Muriel learns anything.”
They ran through the night streets. Muriel shifted into a thousand different forms as he ran through Via Rosa. He would never tire. He couldn’t. And neither could she. He turned a few times to see how close she was, but Carmen stayed within a few feet of him. The sun rose and people moved inches in the span of days. It took a century as Muriel looked for a way out.
The chase ended by the riverbank on the edge of town.
Muriel and Carmen stopped running by the side of the river. On one side, Via Rosa woke up. Muriel could smell carne asada and exhaust fumes flowing through the air. Carmen took her Bowie knife and gripped it. As he paced through the reeds and the unkempt grass, Muriel looked back and said, “I didn’t think he’d send you. You’re looking good.”
She said nothing, stood as though she was waiting in line, but Muriel knew she could kill him whenever she wanted.
“What do you want me to say?” he said. “I’m sorry? Leaving was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I just… This was bigger than us. I just didn’t know… God damn it, say something!”
She remained stoic and Muriel couldn’t read her. She was good, he thought. The sun finally came over the buildings and he said, “Could you do me one favor?”
“What?” she said.
“Could you tell me what you see?”
She almost said something a few times, but Muriel said, “And don’t lie to me. Please. What am I?”
“I see my dad.”
Muriel smiled and said, “That’s good enough. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I left.”
Carmen loosened her grip on the knife and said, “She died asking about you, you know.”
“Yeah. She couldn’t remember why you’d left. She couldn’t remember a lot of things at the end.”
Carmen remained serious and kept her eyes on the demon, but Muriel saw the glistening in her eyes. She quivered a little as she said, “It took me a long time to understand why you left. And I still hate you.”
“Well the War-”
“Didn’t have to happen.”
“Probably. But it’s done. Just do what you came here to do.”
Carmen moved up to him and gave him a peck on the cheek. She whispered, “Where do angels go when they die?”
“…I don’t know.”
The knife plunged through his heart. He hardly felt it. His body rippled and shifted into gray ash, breaking apart from the wound like newly used charcoal.
“Fuck,” he whispered as he fell apart and the wind blew his ashes into the river.
Miguel put his cigarette out as he watched from the bridge overlooking the plaza. Lilith walked next to him as Carmen put her knife away and walked back home.
“Blessed silver?” Miguel asked.
“Crusader sword fragments and Irish church bells.”
“Where’d she get that?”
Miguel lit another cigarette and said, “He didn’t learn. Did he really have to send a nephilim after him? And her of all people?”
Lilith swung around a light-pole while smiling and breathing in the morning frustrations from the passing cars. She said, “He was no good anymore. Broken little Muriel. And what about you, wing-less? Thinking of switching teams finally?”
The former angel exhaled smoke and said, “Not a chance. I retired. I didn’t quit. Besides, he may have had a chance if you hadn’t killed him. He was a good kid.”
“Weren’t we all?”
“No,” Miguel said as he followed the last of Muriel’s ashes through the wind. “He was a rebel. The rest of you are pricks.”
Want to read more? Just visit the main Charcoal Streetspage and take a look at the complete stories, samples, and other fun features, and stay tuned in 2011 for the release of the first volume of collected stories!
It’s Charcoal Streets time. Last week’s story, “Call the Baptist” hinted that Muriel, the demon possessing Aurora, was hiding from something. Now, we get to find out what that was… and what “you-know-who” was referring to. It was tricky trying to write exclusively for Muriel. Having him shapeshift whenever someone looked at him made description difficult, but I hope that in the end he’s an entertaining character. Now let’s get into a demon’s head.
Muriel’s eyes gleamed in the headlights of passing cars like a wolf’s gaze. One eye golden, the other baby-blue, they looked to his latest hunting ground: Sonny’s. The music inside sounded throughout the parking lot. Muriel let the ambient emotions from the people within a block fill him like white noise. In the haze, he focused on the fear and apprehension of a few patrons inside. He went to work with all the excitement of picking out the week’s groceries, but it was his job.
Sonny’s was a bar designed to evoke the pride and glory of the Southwest. Deer antlers and cowboy regalia hung on the wall. The burnt orange walls and faux-Indian artwork made the whole place look like a bad attempt at a fancy version of Taco bell. Top 40 hip-hop played on the speakers. Once he walked past the crowd watching the game, Muriel ordered a glass of water, took a seat alongside the businessmen, and tapped the rim of his glass so the water turned to whiskey. He took slow, long sips of the smoky concoction and tried to smell the fear and frustration in the men around him.
Most were stressed. The sweat under their neatly pressed shirts smelled like candy. They shared ice-filled tin buckets with bottles of weak beer and pretended everything was just as it should have been, that things were calm now that the sun set over the desert and they could go home to their wives and girlfriends. Barely contained resentment at everyone and no one radiated outwards like the ripples in a pond. Muriel swirled the whiskey around his tongue as he inhaled the desperation in the men around him and let their emotions rush through him like a guitar solo at a concert. He drew more enjoyment from the whiskey than he did from the storm of fear.
One man in the group looked like the best target for the night’s entertainment. He wore his tie loose after only a few beers and he joked and laughed like a fratboy. Muriel finished his whiskey and listened to the conversation for a few minutes.
“Can I sit with you guys?” he asked.
The men saw him as one of their own: neatly pressed suit, shirt just a little rumpled from running around an office and going to meetings, and a tie now loose to usher in the evening.
Everyone saw what they wanted to see, Muriel knew. They welcomed him like a long-lost brother as soon as he ordered the next bucket. They joked and talked into the night about office gossip and Muriel laughed and offered insight. Karaoke started and a few of the men went up to do a bad rendition of “Sex on Fire.” As the others shouted rather than sang, Muriel looked to the fratboy businessman and said, “You don’t look like you wear suits all the time. Didn’t I go to high school with you?”
The man finished his fourth beer and said, “Maybe. Bulls or Falcons?”
“Bulls para siempre. You were on the football team, right?”
The man laughed and burped. He struggled to keep his eyes open. Muriel almost had him and said, “Oh man, I remember those games. Fucked up the Cats that one time, remember?”
“Yeah, I know.”
Regret pulsed outward. The man’s tears would have tasted good, thought Muriel, a nice way to end an otherwise routine evening, but instead he said, “Didn’t go pro?”
The businessman chuckled and said, “Nah, man… Went to college, hurt my leg.”
“Yeah but… it worked out. You know? Studied business. Got a job from my dad, and now I’m working full-time. Got it good.”
Muriel couldn’t stomach another drink of the warming beer and tapped the bottle, turning its contents into roughly distilled bourbon. He drank a few mouthfuls and said, “Don’t you miss it? Doing whatever we fucking wanted? Just taking what we wanted?”
The man laughed. The bottle almost missed his mouth when he tried to drink. Muriel looked to the bar and saw a young woman drinking alone. She was good looking, though not beautiful. In her short yellow dress, though, she would do. Muriel pointed to her and said, “Think she’s cute?”
The man looked up from his bottle and smiled. He stared for a second and turned to face Muriel. Struggling to keep his eyes open, the man said, “Your eyes are two different colors.”
Muriel blinked and nodded towards the girl. He said, “So, do you think she’s cute?”
“Want me to introduce you?”
The man finished his beer and nodded. Muriel altered the whiskey lingering in his throat to smell like spearmint and went up to the bar. Long weeks and cheap drinks made Muriel’s job easier. He bought her last round and escorted her to the table, then got her and the fratboy another round beers. She declined at first, but Muriel leaned in and whispered a few choice facts, some real, some made up, about his new target. They quickly hit it off and Muriel discreetly left for the bar and watched them play footsies under the table for the next hour or so as they leaned in and eventually tickled each other with their mouths. The other businessmen were long gone by the time the new couple left. Muriel could see them walk across the street to the Motel 6. Last call came and went and the last patrons left by the time the light in the room across the street finally went out.
Muriel sipped the last of his beer bottle of whiskey and felt the lust and pleasure emanating from that room and a dozen others. So much pleasure…
He didn’t smile, left a wad of twenties, and left.
Muriel walked the streets. He smoked a few cigarettes. One yellow and one blue eye looked through tanned skin, freckles, business suits, t-shirt and jeans, and whatever made people most comfortable. Via Rosa smelled like hope, tears, blood, and gunpowder. Ghosts swirled like autumn leaves at an intersection. His eyes scanned the area and felt the utter humanity in the city.
A car pulled up to him. The window rolled down and a young woman poked her head out. “Excuse me,” she said, “where’s Sonny’s?”
She smelled like fear and desperation. She might make a good cap to the night, Muriel decided, and he leaned in and said, “It’s just down the street, about two blocks, then a right. They’re closed, though, but if you want to get in, I know the owner.”
She quickly unlocked the passenger door and let him in. As they drove, he said, “Most people don’t pick up strangers like this. Lots of freaks at this hour.”
“I’m looking for someone. He’s not answering his phone and he was supposed to be back hours ago.”
Muriel felt the fear from her like the rumble in a bass speaker. She vibrated like a tuning fork. It made him drunk like a case of cheap beer. He licked his lips and said, “If you don’t mind me asking, how do you know I’m safe to be with? That I’m not the Big Bad Wolf?”
She managed to smile a bit and say, “I doubt a mugger walks around in a business suit like that. I’d ask you how you know I’m not going to kidnap you.”
“Is it a nice suit?” Muriel asked.
A note of confusion and fear, a single sharp sound, filled the car before she said, “I guess. Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering. I don’t pay attention to my clothes. I was just wondering if I really was wearing a nice suit. And as for trusting you… well, I’m always eager to help someone in need, see the light. Take a right at the next stop.”
That same note played throughout the car. Muriel smelled acid and sourness, adrenalin, and her pulse quickened. He could almost see her neck throb.
“Are you a preacher or something?” she asked.
“Something,” he said. “I’m… a man of wealth and taste.”
“You have a very sweet voice, you know?”
“Thanks. It helps with my job. The bar’s right here on the left.”
After they parked, Muriel got out of the car and knocked.
“Hey, Bill! It’s me. Need to talk to you for a sec.”
The woman waited by the car and held her arms close. The night air got cold very fast and Muriel tried looking in but saw no one.
“Guess Billy called it an early night,” he said. “Listen, I can probably get in around the back if you want to have a drink.”
She wasn’t looking at him anymore but instead stared at the man crossing the street. The fear turned to anger as Muriel recognized the fratboy stumbling to his car. The man got to his Mercedes and fumbled with the key. The woman rushed him and smacked the keys out of his hand.
The couple argued for a few minutes and Muriel blended into the shadows to watch the spectacle.
He smoked a cigarette while the couple yelled in the empty parking lot. The ash cigarette fell in slow snowstorms. The burning ember at the cigarette’s tip burned hot enough to illuminate his shifting face in the corner. He became no one and everyone once neither the man or woman looked at him. A pair of yellow and blue eyes glistened in the red light.
The woman held her stomach and grabbed the man’s hand to press against her belly.
They were quiet for a moment. Muriel forgot to inhale. The ash collected on the end of the cigarette while the woman drove away and left the man standing there, a cold expression on his face. He looked around, tried to find his keys, and finally got in his car. He sat there for an hour. Muriel’s cigarette burned out long before and the ash finally fell on its own.
The streets smelled like desperation. It was all he could sense in the alleys and closing bars. Horny men and women who didn’t find a horny mate left with a cheap buzz. Muriel waded through the ocean of people coming out of the Strip on Herradura Street. His fingers tingled. His shape drifted into a dozen forms as the late crowd looked at him. A memory stirred in his mind and pushed against his eyes. No one paid attention to him as he crumpled on the side of a building and held back the rage. They felt him, though. He sent out waves of pain and anguish. Many of the club-goers cried and never knew why.
Muriel gathered himself and dusted his newly formed fur coat. It turned into a raincoat within seconds. He sniffed the air and followed the scent.
Her smell lingered in the air. Cucumber, tea leaves, baby powder… each as distinct as the gunpowder on the streets, the pot in the neighbor’s house, and the pheromones the woman virtually sweat in the car. Her car was parked outside the modest suburban home a few miles from Sonny’s. The houses along the street looked the same: white, sharp at the top, all identical. Muriel felt like he was walking into a crocodile’s open jaw.
Fire raged in him. His eyes simmered red and his leather coat billowed in ethereal wind like a pair of bat’s wings until he took a deep breath and steadied himself. His eyes returned to their normal blue and yellow and he rang the doorbell.
She opened the door.
“It’s late,” she said, apparently not recognizing him. Maybe she saw something else this time. Muriel wondered what she saw…
He smelled salt. Her tired red eyes looked at him.
“I’m very sorry,” he said, “but I think we need to talk.”
“Come back tomorrow,” she said and started to close the door.
Muriel stuck his foot in and said, “It can’t wait. It’s about your husband.”
The pulse of emotions nearly knocked him on the floor. He recoiled and braced himself on the door. “It’s important and it can’t wait,” he said.
“Just come back tomorrow.”
She slammed the door and nearly broke his foot. He focused on mending the cracked bones and joints popped back into place as he yelled, “He was drunk! We… I got him drunk! It was my fault! I’m sorry!”
The outside light turned off.
Nothing happened in the house. She was asleep, Muriel thought. Or as close as she would get. He lit another cigarette and faded into the shadows.
Via Rosa was alive. Muriel tried to drown himself in the exhaust fumes, cheap cigarettes, and expensive mixed drinks that made downtown smell like a cheap attempt at a college party. When he got to the river running through the center of town, he sat on the bridge overlooking the plaza with the angel statue high on a pedestal. The sun rose over the mirrored buildings at the center of town. Old Spanish cathedrals and faux-Hispanic architecture jutted from the desert and made the whole thing look like a bad Halloween decoration.
The smell of brimstone filled his senses before he heard her.
“I’m surprised you showed up,” he said. He stood and faced the woman wearing a constantly shifting outfit. Her curly red hair hung below her shoulders. Purple and green eyes glistened in the morning dew. Her freckled face slowly turned a deep tan as she smiled and said, “You have the strangest sense of humor, Muriel.”
“Pinche hecklers always tell me the same thing.”
“I’m serious,” she said, her smile fading as her hair turned straight and blond. “Here the rest of us are trying to show these people the virtues of chaos and you go an apologize and try to fix things with one them. You broke the rules, little rain cloud.”
Muriel took another cigarette out and tried his Zippo, but it was empty; sighing, he simply touched the cigarette’s tip and it lit as he said, “For being demons, we have a lot of rules, chica.”
“You pissed off a lot of people. You couldn’t be a good little demon and do what you’re designed to do?”
“Maybe I got bored.”
“Damn it, Muriel, I’m serious. The boss wants to bring you back in. He thinks you’ll cause more damage out here.”
“Our job is to cause damage, Lilith. He think I’ll go ape-shit and fix something?”
Lilith sat next to him and said, “Boss called for someone to come find you, take you back to the pit or deal with you here if you resisted. If I were you, I’d run. Fast.”
“Who’d he get? Half those huercos who came with us went pussy ages ago, and the new guys are a bunch of mocosos who think-”
“He summoned a Fallen Son.”
Muriel almost stopped mid-inhale but kept going, saying on the exhale, “About time Lou called in one of those favors. I’m flattered.”
“You’re dead. Just run and he may not catch you for a week.”
“Why not? Fuck, Muriel.”
Muriel flicked the butt over the bridge and straightened his leather coat as it turned into a patchwork of fabrics. He said, “I’m one of the First demons. I fought fucking archangels. Last thing I’m going to do is run from some pimply half-breed human.”
Miguel opened the door to finally stop the incessant knocking. He walked around the bags of recyclables he still needed to take out. He didn’t wear much beyond a tank top and a pair of jeans when he found himself face-to-face with a demon on the other side of the door. He recognized the blue and yellow eyes and the tell-tale aura of brimstone and cheap cigarettes.
“Muriel,” he said, “and what brings you to the bottom of the barrel?”
The demon entered and said, “I need help, Miguel. I screwed up bad. Boss wants me back in the pit and… You really live here?”
Muriel picked up a blue recycling bag and looked inside at the empty beer cans. Miguel took the bag away and said, “It’s cleaning day.”
“Can’t you just… make it go poof and be done?”
“What do you want, Muriel?”
The demon went to the half-kitchen by the sofa and grabbed a glass from the drying rack. He filled it with water and tapped the rim to make more whiskey. He gulped it in one go and said, “I’m so fucked right now. I need a place to hide out for a while until I figure this out.”
“There is not a thing on Earth or Hell or Heaven I’d want from you, so why should I help you?”
“I was hoping all that charity and oath to shepherd the lost may have stuck with you.”
“That would be the clergy, not me. I’m not employed anymore, remember?”
“Once an angel, always an angel. Come on. I need you.”
“If I’m still an angel, that’s even less incentive to help you.” Miguel scratched his unshaven face and tried to assess the demon. Their shifting forms made it difficult, but he saw tension in Muriel’s walk, the way he held the glass.
“Ándale, Miguel,” Muriel finally said. “You can’t tell me you’re holding a grudge.”
“A grudge? No. I got over the War a long time ago. I’m just pissed at you for the incident with Raúl.”
“Please! That was a week ago!”
“Never mind. Tell you what? You tell me what you did, and I’ll help you out.”
“I… No. No thanks. I’ll just leave.” He looked for a cigarette and pulled out an empty pack. Miguel pulled out his own pack and offered him one. Muriel went to grab the cigarette but Miguel pulled it away and said, “Only if you tell me what you did.”
Muriel grabbed the cigarette, a look of resignation on four simultaneous faces, and said, “Fine.”
He lit it with his fingertip and sat on the sofa. His leather coat shifted into black canvas and his neon-orange hair curled into black dreadlocks.
“Do you remember what I was like before the Fall?”
Miguel lit his own cigarette and sat next to Muriel, saying, “Cocky, obnoxious little cherub. Thought you knew better than everyone else.”
“I wasn’t the only one. Anyway, before the Fall, I was… involved with someone.”
“Not a human, right? We rounded up the nephelim-”
“Not all of them.”
“Well, no, not all of them. But if it was with an angel, I’d know.”
“We kept it hidden. I knew what it would mean if it got out. Once I knew how far Lucifer was willing to go, I had to make a choice between staying with her and doing what I thought was right. I signed up, big war, and we got banished. Something happened that reminded me of her. And I tried to fix it. And now I can’t stop thinking about her.”
“Wow,” Miguel said. “That sounds incredible. Want me to get some Chunky Monkey and a copy of Twilight so we can cry?”
Muriel’s eyes flashed red. “I mean it,” he said. “If you had half a spine you’d know what it was like to love someone, but you ran away from the fucking job when it turned into work. And we loved each other, but when Lucifer called for us to join him… I haven’t seen her since then. And I miss her chingos.”
“Muriel, you’ve spent ages tempting people to give in to their most basic desires. You’re the moral opposition. You’re supposed to be entropy and chaos. What does any of this-”
“The guy I convinced to have a one-night stand with some fresa from the bar was married and expecting a kid with his… I’m guessing wife. I don’t break up families.”
Miguel smiled for a few seconds before the laughter almost made him drop the cigarette. He laughed all the way to the sink to get another glass. He filled it to the brim and turned it to beer. Once he stopped laughing, he said, “You realize the irony of a demon being against breaking up family, right? You, all of you, were part of the greatest treachery in history and you’re getting pissy over making some guy cheat on his wife.”
Muriel stood. His shifting features flared into a hundred skin tones, hair lengths, and his eyes burned red as he said, “It’s not the same!”
Miguel caught himself and said, “Fine. Have it your way. Look, I can’t promise anything, but-”
As his form more or less settled on slow shifting, Muriel said, “Lucifer summoned a Fallen Son for me.”
“A Fallen- He actually summoned one of the nephelim? There’s one in Via Rosa?”
“What? You people don’t read the newsletter?”
“No I mean… Muriel, they’re going to drag you back to Hell and-”
“And what? Torture me? Been there. Got the blackened wings to prove it. No t-shirt, though.”
“A Fallen Son could kill you.”
“I know. How long’s it been since one of us died?”
Miguel put his beer down and said, “Not long enough. Fine. I’ll help you. But you’re not going to like it.”
Want to read more? Just visit the main Charcoal Streetspage and take a look at the complete stories, samples, and other fun features, and stay tuned in 2011 for the release of the first volume of collected stories!
I linked to a story on the Huffington post yesterday that went over some of the likely hot trends to hit teen fiction after Twilight made vampires superstars again. Some of the suggestions, like cyclopses, were clearly jokes, but some of the first suggestions were ghost and angels.
I feel like I did when Avatar was announced. WAY back when, back in middle school, I had a whole series of short stories that featured cat-like humanoid aliens that lived on a moon orbiting a gas giant in a nearby star system. They were technologically advanced but very nature-oriented. And now I find out that angels and ghosts may be a new trend? Do I really want to join the pack if Charcoal Streets gets picked up in the next year?
Like I said in yesterday’s article, using established mythologies can open up a world of themes and story possibilities. Miguel, Micah, the Blue Lady, and other creatures I’ve yet to reveal work by their own rules. Some of these are explicit, others are subtle. There’s a definite hierarchy, and they’re certainly much more durable and powerful than regular humans.
I mean, how many of us can take a kick to the fruit of the loom and not flinch?
The advantage of using established creatures means you don’t have to come up with the rules of magic, the biology, or any of that. As much as I enjoy doing things like that, it does waste time and you get wrapped up in minutia. Instead, human mythologies are already full of creatures that are rich in history, stereotypes, and story potential.
Why did I choose angels and ghosts? Why not switch to something more unique?
Because they work for my story. At least… to a point. My angels and ghosts are decidedly not the angels on Valentine’s Day cards and cathedral stained windows.
I want a story set along the US-Mexico border. The myths and legends here are angels, demons, ghosts, things intimately tied to religion, especially Catholicism. Using that as a starting point, I alter the rules of the Charcoal Streets universe to match the story I want to tell.
I can tell you right now that the angels and spirits won’t have white fluffy wings, be impossibly beautiful, or quote cookie-cutter Touched by an Angel affirmations of faith and hope.
More than a year ago, I said to a friend that I wanted to write the anti-Twilight novel. Now, I face the real possibility to joining a slew of novels with angels and ghosts and being labeled as another face on the bandwagon.
Neil Gaiman, a god amongst men, makes a great point in this article where he says books should not just be great writing. They should tell a story. You can be the greatest grammar expert in the world and still have a horrible imagination. Gaiman is proof that you can be both… Oh, to be Neil Gaiman…
I know there’s no sound in space, but you have to hear this to believe it. Scientists took the magnetic flux of the sun and recorded it as music. It’s very haunting.
Some intrepid skydivers managed to take a photo of the space shuttle launching… from the top.
(sigh) Not only does Texas want to make same-sex marriage a felony, but they want to ban strip-clubs and pornography. If they go after Dungeons and Dragons next, I’m moving.
You may never have heard the name “Edith Shain,” but you’ve seen her for years. The nurse being kissed by a sailor in the iconic WWII photograph “V-Day in Times Square” recently passed away. Still, the moment where a total stranger celebrated the end of the war in the Pacific will forever live in our history books.
A Gucci employee built a thermonuclear reactor in New York City. Amazingly enough, he’s actually the 38th amateur physicist to achieve nuclear fusion.
Oh, I am entering this thing. Wizards of the Coast is running another “Don’t Split the Party” contest. They will fly you and five friends to GenCon and give you passes if you can convince them that you and your old D&D group should be reunited. Justin, Jian, Chris, Wes, John… The Lastoria Campaign will live again!