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…
April 29, 2013
Mary and I finally saw Evil Dead on Friday and were not disappointed. Of course, since this is a remake, everyone’s going to want to know how it stacks against the original, and let me tell you that as someone who grew up with thoughts of Ash kicking zombie ass for many years, this movie does not disappoint. In fact, I welcome it to the Evil Dead family.
Evil Dead is about Mia, a young woman trying to kick a serious drug addiction, and her friends and brother who have taken her to an isolated cabin in the woods to help her detox and quit cold turkey. As usually happens, they find an artifact of ancient eldritch power and one of these people is stupid enough to read from a book bound in human skin and filled with images of dismemberment and demonic possession.
Cue an hour and a half of five people trying to figure out how to stop the demon possessing them one by one until it claims all their souls and can escape into the real world.
Is it the same plot and characters as the original?
Of course not. It’s a retelling, a modern take on Raimi’s original idea. The special effects are updated and make as little use of CGI as possible. Actually, that’s a lie. While I know CGI was used, it’s not noticeable. It’s subtle make-up as opposed to a mask. Not to mention that practical effects just make the kills that much more painful to watch… in a good way.
Best of all, the music and gore are an homage to 1980’s horror movies. Think of it like an old, classic car that’s been given a new paintjob and wax job. Even better, the sound system is updated and the seats got new covers and cushions.
It’s pretty much what I wanted in a horror movie. It’s brutal and bloody without being cartoony. Okay, maybe a moment or two are cartoony, but the movie does a good job of creating tension and using gore to create an unsettling effect, not just for gore’s sake. It manages to keep raising the stakes and still feel believable. The tension keeps mounting for the last two thirds and it works.
Combined with good sound effects, the movie is scary, creepy, and it plays its few jump scares right.
Okay, this one isn’t really the movie’s fault, but it’s following in the footsteps of a very famous movie series. Comparisons are bound to come up, but I say let the movie stand on its own. It can do it. As a horror movie, it works.
As a remake… well, I think it works as well as a remake can work. It takes some elements from the first two Evil Dead movies and strips the comedy, something that really made the originals memorable. Gone are the quips and the one-liners, though, which could really have helped move the movie from good to great.
Much like The Thing, this movie is a good attempt at trying to follow a series of movies that have colored the horror genre for more than thirty years. This remake/ retelling is its own animal, and by itself is a very creepy, very atmospheric horror movie, if formulaic.
The fact that the people who made the original worked on this as well, and there are hints that this remake may crossover with the original films (and Ash!), there’s a lot to be hopeful for if this series continues.
Check out the red-band trailer below and tell me what you think if you’ve seen it. You can also check out the original on Netflix instant right now if you’re so inclined.
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!
January 2, 2012
I am a writer. I write.
I’ve been out of the loop for a few weeks, and even when I was still writing the last articles in December, I felt it. I’ve been feeling it for months, maybe a year. Something was off. It was like putting on your contacts and accidently putting one inside out. You think there’s an eyelash or something inside and you can’t figure it out, and when you do, it’s so painfully obvious you hate yourself.
The feeling was subtle at first. It was a pebble in my shoe. It was one crooked picture frame on the wall. Something was off and I couldn’t place it.
New Year rolled around yesterday. I was drunk with champagne and tequila. I was filled, brown sugar-glazed pork, Mary’s salad, and New Year’s grapes. We watched home movies. I broke down. I saw too many dead faces in green-tinted VHS. I heard my grandfather laugh and saw my uncle dancing. I saw another uncle arriving with his happy wife. I remember the uncle who was kidnapped and murdered. I remember my grandfather’s sister whom we lost a few months ago. I remembered too many faces I’d never kiss again and too many voices I’d never hear laugh.
Between chocking back screams and trying to get that mental pebble out of my head, something clicked. I felt it go off like an old light bulb. It flickered and the picture on the wall was crystal-clear for an instant before the light shone through in malaria yellow and everything faded ito view like the Second Coming.
I had no fangs, no claws, and someone had sucked out my poison.
A few years ago, one of my bosses said I was one of the better tutors she knew, one the better teachers, and when she saw me working with students and teaching, she finally figured out why they learned, why they listened, and why I kept going.
I didn’t care. I wasn’t a counselor or an editor. I cared about writing. Sometimes, I’d suppress the urge to jump across the table or run through a classroom and choke the ever-loving crap out of someone who was there for an easy answer or wanted information just dumped on them. I wanted to give them understanding. I wanted them to think critically. I didn’t care about the day their dog died. I didn’t care their girlfriend or boyfriend dumped them. My only mission was to teach.
I never gave a multiple-choice test in my life. If I did that, I’d add chance to the equation. I don’t want chance.
I want to know what you think. I want to get behind those little orbs of jelly and nerves and find out what goes on in your brain. It’s the predator in me, the part that I held back for almost two, maybe three years, so I could be as normal as possible, so I could integrate with the community and be a part of it and make too many people around me happy.
A friend and fellow writer once nicknamed me “The Demon of Guanajuato.” I think it’s time I lived up to it again.
I’m going to press buttons. I’m going to say the uncomfortable things that have fermented in my head for the last two years and I kept hidden out of fear I thought I’d killed years ago. I’m going to be the snake in the garden. I’m going to be the writer I once was, maybe even before I started this blog. Old journals and stories remind me of the way I used to say things, the way I used to write, and I miss that edge. I want my edge back, and I want it to be sharp enough so I cut my own fingers off if I don’t handle it properly.
It’s not that I have the answers. I’ll even be willing to admit I’ll be wrong once in a while, but if you want my words to be your words, here they are. This is my currency, my gift to anyone who likes my writing, likes the way I think. In a perfect world, my words would spread like a virus.
Randomology is two years old now. I feel like I’m back from the dead. It’s Easter. Gorge yourselves on candy and chocolate and bust out the bourbon.
I’m back. Wear a cup.
I’m a writer. I’m going to write.
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.”
“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.”
October 29, 2010
I wrote a draft of this story years ago for a college writing course. Apparently, I gave a few girls nightmares. I don’t know if it’s that scary, but I certainly got a creepy feeling while writing this. If you don’t know who el cucuy is, just think of it was the Mexican version of the boogeyman.
Anyway, have a safe Halloween and go be wild! It’s the one night of the year you can dress up like Batman and people won’t look at you like you’re insane.
I was six the first time I saw the el cucuy. My mom and dad had been fighting all afternoon, but once they calmed down I asked my dad if I could set up my Cub Scout tent in the backyard and camp. He said it would be fine as long as I didn’t cross the tree line into the monte, into the wilderness with the wolves, and cactus, and rattlesnakes. I took a bag of animal crackers, some juice boxes, a few comic books, and a flashlight to read them once it got dark. I even snuck out a book of legends my dad kept in the living room. I took it even though he told me I was too young to read it. When it got dark, I opened it and looked through the pictures and tried to read a few of the stories. There were pictures of killers, screaming innocents, demons in the shadows, and the monsters that followed us from Mexico to America. I didn’t know what any of it meant. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and peered at the pictures and hoped demons wouldn’t hurt me.
I looked at my watch and saw it was almost midnight and my parents were fighting again. The pictures burned into my mind while I stared at rough drawings of el cucuy and other monsters as I tried to drown the screams inside the house with the gray, black, and white of the book.
At one in the morning, I heard the rustling outside my tent. Mom and dad were still shouting inside. I turned my flashlight off and crept to the tent’s zipper, opening the flap as carefully as possible. My sweaty little hands grabbed the flashlight like it was my mom’s hand. It must have taken me hours to open the flap.
My eyes quickly adjusted to the moonlight when I finally looked outside. The house sat less than thirty feet from me, and behind me I could hear the sounds of the desert. A cricket played his fiddle in the dark. A whitetail buck scurried between the bushes. I also heard something crunching. It sounded like cookies being eaten. I crawled around the tent on my stomach until I could see the big elm tree behind me.
Something was curled up beside the tree, its back facing me while I tried to move as little as possible and not even disturb the grass. I could see nothing but black skin in the moonlight until it stopped munching on whatever it was eating. It turned slightly. A strand of sugar-white hair fell almost to the ground from its head. I followed the hair all the way up to the half of its face that was staring at me. A pin-prick of red light stood where its eye should have been. It turned and looked at me.
The thing spoke.
It sounded like a hiss and a whisper, something more animal than actual language. Needle-sharp teeth poked out of its gums like a piranha’s. It had ice-white hair, wild and free, that reached almost to the floor. Its skin was jet-black and the glow from its eyes gave it a sharp edge like a knife. I could see long pointed ears, horns I thought briefly, and even though I was fixed on the light from those eyes, I got the impression it was a “he.”
He turned around and ran into the monte, impossibly fast, and I tried to follow, but I lost him when he jumped into the brush.
I returned to the tent and found what remained of an animal cracker wrapper. It still had half a note stuck on it, “If you get hungry later. –Mom.”
My parents were busy with the divorce for several weeks. Every time I wanted to tell them about el cucuy, they just asked me to come back later. They had things to do. I stayed with my mom while my dad moved in with a friend of his. During those few weeks, I wanted him around. I wanted to talk to him and play basketball. On Saturdays, he used to take me out for ice cream. My mom was lactose intolerant. She and I had cookies when I got back.
On Saturdays, then, I had a lot of free time. Once the sun went down, I would sit on the windowsill in the living room and look out into el monte behind the house. Once it got dark, I turned off the lights inside so I could see further into hills. It was easier when there was a full moon, but even then I could barely tell the difference between the trees and anything else moving along the undergrowth. I kept my ear close to the window to hear anything that might break the silence.
After my mom won custody, I watched long after she thought I had gone to bed. She would kiss me good night and close my door, but I would sneak to the living room and stare out into the darkness for hours, until I could no longer keep my eyes open.
I didn’t see el cucuy again for several years.
To be continued…
Want to read more? Just visit the main Charcoal Streets page 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!
July 9, 2010
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.
As they say, the show must go on.
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.”
“Stick him where?”
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 girl flipped them off and left.
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 Streets page 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!